Futurism was an Italian art movement of the early twentieth century that aimed to capture in art the dynamism and energy of the modern world

Giacomo Balla, 'Abstract Speed - The Car has Passed' 1913
Giacomo Balla
Abstract Speed - The Car has Passed 1913
Oil on canvas
© DACS, 2002

Introduction to Futurism

Futurism was launched by the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in 1909. On 20 February he published his Manifesto of Futurism on the front page of the Paris newspaper Le Figaro.

Among modernist movements futurism was exceptionally vehement in its denunciation of the past. This was because in Italy the weight of past culture was felt as particularly oppressive. In the Manifesto, Marinetti asserted that ‘we will free Italy from her innumerable museums which cover her like countless cemeteries’. What the futurists proposed instead was an art that celebrated the modern world of industry and technology:

We declare…a new beauty, the beauty of speed. A racing motor car…is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace. (A celebrated ancient Greek sculpture in the Louvre museum in Paris.)

Futurist painting used elements of neo-impressionism and cubism to create compositions  that expressed the idea of the dynamism, the energy and movement, of modern life.

Chief artists associated with futurism were Giacomo BallaUmberto BoccioniGino Severini

Vorticism was essentially the British equivalent to futurism, but Wyndham Lewis the founder of the vorticists was deeply hostile to the futurists.

After the brutality of the first world war, many artists rejected the avant-garde notions of futurism and other pre-war movements, by using more traditional and reassuring approaches, a phenomenon described as the ‘return to order’.

Futurism in Tate’s collection

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  • Gino Severini, 'Suburban Train Arriving in Paris' 1915
    Gino Severini
    Suburban Train Arriving in Paris 1915
    Oil on canvas
    support: 886 x 1156 mm
    frame: 1051 x 1320 x 95 mm
    Purchased with assistance from a member of the Art Fund 1968© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002
  • Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, 'The Arrival' circa 1913
    Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson
    The Arrival circa 1913
    Oil on canvas
    support: 762 x 635 mm
    frame: 895 x 775 x 60 mm
    Presented by the artist's widow 1956© Tate
  • Gerardo Dottori, 'Explosion of Red on Green' 1910
    Gerardo Dottori
    Explosion of Red on Green 1910
    Oil on canvas
    support: 492 x 695 mm
    frame: 745 x 954 x 70 mm
    Presented by the artist 1971© The Estate of Gerardo Dottori
  • Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, 'The Soul of the Soulless City ('New York - an Abstraction')' 1920
    Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson
    The Soul of the Soulless City ('New York - an Abstraction') 1920
    Oil on canvas
    support: 915 x 608 mm

    Presented by the Patrons of British Art through the Tate Gallery Foundation 1998© Tate
  • Mario Sironi, 'The Syphon' 1916
    Mario Sironi
    The Syphon 1916
    Gouache and mixed media on paper
    support: 457 x 419 mm
    Presented by Mr and Mrs Eric Estorick 1952© DACS 2006
  • Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, 'Bursting Shell' 1915
    Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson
    Bursting Shell 1915
    Oil on canvas
    frame: 930 x 724 x 75 mm
    support: 760 x 560 mm
    Purchased 1983© Tate

Further reading

Futurism
This exhibition which was on display at Tate Modern in 2009, showed futurist artworks alongside works associated with art movements that reacted to futurism. Read the room guide and see which artworks were on display.

Artists in focus

Umberto Boccioni

Boccioni was a major sculptor as well as painter. He became the main theorist of the movement.

Umberto Boccioni, 'Unique Forms of Continuity in Space' 1913, cast 1972
Umberto Boccioni
Unique Forms of Continuity in Space 1913, cast 1972
Bronze
object: 1175 x 876 x 368 mm
Purchased 1972

Artist biography
Read the biography for Umberto Boccioni in Art & artists. 

Work of the Week: Unique Forms of Continuity in Space by Umberto Boccioni
Read our blog post which explains why this sculpture was an icon of the new modern world.

C.R.W Nevinson: England’s only futurist

Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, 'Study for 'Returning to the Trenches'' 1914-15
Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson
Study for 'Returning to the Trenches' 1914-15
Charcoal and crayon on paper
support: 146 x 206 mm
Purchased 1959© Tate

Artist biography
Read the biography for C.R.W Nevinson in Art & artists.

Listen to a lecture by Michael K. Walsh, which tells the story of Futurism’s soujourn in London and its relationship with the nation’s only disciple.

Powerfully lonely
Historian and writer Matthew Green writes about Nevinson’s The Soul of the Soulless City (‘New York – an Abstraction’) and argues that New York revived Nevinson’s futurist sensibilities, which had lain dormant since the war.

Futurism in context

What comes across from all of these great works is a great sense of energy, of artistic change and of dynamism, as Britain becomes modernised and the centre of an empire.
Chris Stephens

 

Curator Chris Stephens discusses the Tate artworks which are on display in the 1910–1914 room at Tate Britain, a time when futurism was in its element.

Other perspectives

Bring the noise
Two art professionals explore the futurists’ legendary and provocative performances which led the way for avant-garde participatory art in the twentieth century.

Futurism in detail

Futurism and the Avant-Garde conference video recordings
This symposium explores the controversial status of futurist movements in art history, and some of their ‘avant-garde’ practices. Speakers engage with various forms of futurist art, performance and film, including the use of manifestos and demonstrations.

Related glossary terms

Vorticism, cubism, neo-impressionismavant-garde