Umberto Boccioni

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space

1913, cast 1972

On loan

Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao, Spain): Motion. Autos Art Architecture

Umberto Boccioni 1882–1916
Original title
Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio
Object: 1175 × 876 × 368 mm
Weight: 55kg
Purchased 1972

Display caption

In the early years of the twentieth century, industrialisation swept across Italy. The futurist movement was founded by writers and artists like Umberto Boccioni, who enthused about new inventions such as cars and electricity. In Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, the figure is aerodynamically deformed by speed. Boccioni exaggerated the body’s dynamism so that it embodied the urge towards progress. The sculpture may reflect ideas of the mechanised body that appeared in futurist writings, as well as the ‘superman’ envisaged by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

Gallery label, February 2016

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Catalogue entry

Umberto Boccioni 1882-1916

T01589 Unique Forms of Continuity in Space 1913

Not inscribed
Bronze, 44 7/8 x 33 1/8 x 14 1/2 (114 x 84 x 37) excluding flat part of base; height including base plane 46 1/2 (118)
Purchased from Alistair McAlpine (Grant-in-Aid) 1972
Prov: Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo (cast from the original plaster in their collection specially for the Tate Gallery 1972); Alistair McAlpine, London
Exh: Pioneers of Modern Sculpture, Hayward Gallery, London, July-September 1973 (62, repr.)
Lit: Giulio Carlo Argan, Umberto Boccioni (Rome 1953), p.27, one of the early casts without the base repr. pl.58; Maria Drudi Gambillo and Teresa Fiori (ed.), Archivi del Futurismo (Rome 1958), Vol.1, p.287; ibid. (Rome 1962), Vol.2, Boccioni No.332, p.270, the plaster repr. pp.232-3 (pls.331 and 335), either the Mattioli or Milan museum bronze repr. p.232 (pls.332-4); Guido Ballo, Boccioni: La Vita e l'Opera (Milan 1964), No.521, pp.336-7, 502, Mattioli cast repr. pls.228-31 and p.476, pl.521; Marianne W. Martin, Futurist Art and Theory 1909-1915 (Oxford 1968), pp.164-72, Museum of Modern Art cast repr. pls.165-7 and frontispiece in colour; Aldo Palazzeschi and Gianfranco Bruno, L'Opera Completa di Boccioni (Milan 1969), No.166, p.111, the Mattioli bronze repr. p.111 and pls.XLIII-XLV in colour; John Golding, Boccioni's Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (Newcastle upon Tyne 1972), Museum of Modern Art cast repr. p.5; R.W. Flint (ed.), Marinetti; Selected Writings (London 1972), p.294; exh. catalogue Futurism: A Modern Focus, Guggenheim Museum, New York, November-December 1973, p.72, Winston-Malbin cast repr.; Douglas Cooper, 'Painters of Light and Mood. 2' in Books and Bookmen, XXI, January 1976, p.16; Letter from Lord Bullock and reply from Douglas Cooper in Books and Bookmen, XXI, May 1976, pp.4-5; Further letter from Lord Bullock and reply from Douglas Cooper in Books and Bookmen, XXI, August 1976, pp.4-5
Repr: The Tate Gallery 1972-4 (London 1975), p.22

Boccioni began to make sculpture in 1912 as an extension of his activity as a painter and based on Futurist theory. This, his largest surviving piece, was preceded by three other sculptures of full-length striding figures which are now known only from photographs, 'Synthesis of Human Dynamism', 'Speeding Muscles' and 'Spiral Expansion', with which he worked step by step towards the final dynamic synthesis. The treatment embodies very clearly the principles set out in his manifesto 'The Plastic Foundations of Futurist Sculpture and Painting' first published in Lacerba on 15 March 1913, such as:

'What we want to do is to show the living object in its dynamic growth; i.e. provide a synthesis of those transformations undergone by an object due to its twin motions, one relative, the other absolute ...

'Hence, for us, the object has no form in itself; the only definable thing is the line which reveals the relationship between the object's weight (quantity) and its expansion (quality).

'This has suggested to us the notion of force-lines, which characterize the object and enable us to see it as a whole - it is the essential interpretation of the object, the perception of life itself. Ours is a search for the definitive, through a succession of intuitive stages ...'

It was first exhibited in Boccioni's one-man show of sculpture at the Galerie La Boetie in Paris in June-July 1913 and was reproduced in his book Pittura Scultura Futuriste: Dinamismo Plastico (Milan 1914) with the date 1913. He referred to it in a letter of 4 September 1913 as 'my latest and most liberated work' (Archivi, Vol.1, p.287).

All four plaster sculptures of full-length striding figures seem to have been included in the memorial exhibition of Boccioni's work at the Palazzo Cova, Milan, in December 1916-January 1917. Stored in a courtyard after the exhibition closed, they were hacked to pieces by workmen anxious to clear out this part of the building. The plasters of 'Unique Forms of Continuity in Space' and 'Development of a Bottle in Space' were saved by Marinetti and the painter Fedele Azari, the Secretary of the Futurist Movement, who collected the pieces and stuck them together again.

The earliest bronze cast is the one now in the collection of Gianni Mattioli in Milan, who recalls that he bought it from Fedele Azari at least two years before the latter's death in 1930, that is to say by about 1928. There is no record of where or when it was made, but most probably this was about 1925-6. (None of Boccioni's sculptures seem to have been cast in bronze during his lifetime). It would seem that Azari owned the plaster at this time and that it then passed after his death to Marinetti, who had two bronzes made from it in 1931 by the foundry Gaetano Chiaruzzi of Rome which were sold to the Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Milan, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1934 and 1948 respectively. Both these, like the cast in the Mattioli collection, include the blocks on which the figure is standing but not the base. Then in 1949 Signora Marinetti had two further bronze casts made by the foundry Giovanni and Angelo Nicci, Rome, which this time include the base, like the original plaster. These now belong to Paolo Marinotti, Milan, and Dr and Mrs Barnett Malbin (The Lydia and Harry Lewis Winston Collection), New York.

In 1952 Signora Marinetti sold the original plaster of this and of Boccioni's other most important sculpture 'Development of a Bottle in Space' to the Brazilian industrialist Francisco Matarazzo Sobrinho, who gave them with his entire collection to the Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo in 1963, when the Museum was founded. Two further casts have since been made from it at the Fundição Artistica em Bronze Alberta Luiza Lazzeroni Benedetti in São Paulo, one in 1960 now in the Museum's collection and this one in 1972 specially for the Tate Gallery. However also in 1972 the Galleria La Medusa in Rome commissioned a further edition of eight bronzes, plus two hors de commerce, which was cast not from the original plaster but by a process of surmoulage from the bronze in the Marinotti collection. One of these (7/8) now belongs to the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller at Otterlo.

(This entry has been compiled with considerable help from Judith Cousins).

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.60-1, reproduced p.60

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