Artist Umberto Boccioni
Accession year 1999-2000
Oil on canvas, 80 x 80 cm
Signed on the back, top right: “U. Boccioni”
Collection Fondazione Francesco Federico Cerruti per l’Arte
Long-term loan Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rivoli-Turin
Inv. no. CC.11.P.BOC.1912.A67
“We must smash, break down and destroy the traditional harmony that makes us fall into a ‘gracefulness’ riddled with shameful sentimental enticements. We deny the past because we want to forget, and forgetting in art means renewal.”
(Umberto Boccioni, 1914)
Provenance: Margherita Sarfatti, Rome; Contessa Fiammetta Gaetani Sarfatti, Rome; the Estate of Contessa Fiammetta Gaetani Sarfatti, Rome.
Exhibitions: Rome 1913 (no. 8); Rotterdam 1913 (no. 8); Milan 1916-17 (no. 60); Milan 1924 (no. 9); Rome 1925 (no. 11, Studio della madre [Antigrazioso]); Umberto Boccioni, exhibition without catalogue (Milan, Castello Sforzesco, 1933); Rome 1948 (no. 23); Venice 1950 (p. 58, no. 11); Rome 1959a (no. 86); Winterthur 1959 (no. 27); Venice 1966 (p. 12, no. 73); Tokyo 1982 (no. 30); Verona 1985-86 (no. 76); Venice 1986 (p. 131); Munich 1988 (no. 11); New York 1988- 89a (pp. 150-151, no. 66); Milan 1989 (pp. 314, 733); Genoa 1997-98 (p. 150, no. 4/5; p. 169, no. 4/5); Lausanne 1998; Rome 2000-01 (pp. 96 fig. II.3, 141 no. II.3); New York 2005b (p. 100, fig. 103); Rome 2009a (p. 226, no. 76).
Bibliography: Boccioni 1914, p. 463, fig. 468; Soffici 1914; Sarfatti 1916, no. 39; Buzzi 1950, p. 32, ill.; Carrieri 1950, p. 47, pl. 13 (Compenetrazione di figura ambiente); Giani 1950, ill.; Argan 1953, p. 30, fig. 41; Drudi Gambillo, Fiori 1958-62, p. 244, no. 348; Carrieri 1961, pp. 12, 271; De Grada 1962, p. 101, no. 87; Ballo 1964, p. 322, no. 502; Martin 1968, no. 123 [1912-13]; Bruno 1969, no. 160a; Calvesi, Coen 1983, p. 442-443 ill., no. 787; The Cerruti Collection 2019, p. 26, ill.; De Marco 2022, pp. 61-62, fig. 6.
Antigrazioso (Anti-Graceful) constitutes one of the peaks of Umberto Boccioni’s work, the most advanced point of explorations capable of forcing the limits of traditional vision and turning them in the opposite direction, into another dimension: from the harmony and beauty of the classical style to the stark, instinctive distortion of form as the only possible path to modernity. The period 1910-12 saw experimentation with countless vocabularies, from the emotive to the most material, from memory to simultaneity, all the way to reconsideration of the elementary structures of reality in a determined effort to jettison the teaching of all the great art of a past now surviving only as the root of a new architecture of vision.
For Boccioni, all things and all works of art are: “Architecture because everything in art must be the creation of autonomous organisms constructed with abstract plastic values, i.e. with the equivalents of reality. This is why we are utterly and violently anti-artistic, anti-pictorial, anti-sculptural, anti-poetic, anti-musical. The works of art of savages, which have so fatefully entered into the process of modern renewal, prove the truth of my assertion. Gauguin’s voyage to Tahiti and the appearance of idols and fetishes from central Africa in the studios of our friends in Montmartre and Montparnasse are a historical inevitability in the field of European sensibility, like the invasion of the organism of a decadent people by a barbarian race. We Italians need the barbarians in order to renew ourselves, we Italians more than any other people, as our past is the greatest in the world and therefore to be feared the most for our life! Our race has always dominated and always revitalised itself through contact with barbarians. We must smash, break down and destroy the traditional harmony that makes us fall into a ‘gracefulness’ riddled with shameful sentimental enticements. We deny the past because we want to forget, and forgetting in art means renewal.”1
In a complex stylistic analogy, midway between convergence and distance, the new Futurist aesthetic, brutal, violent and “barbaric”, as declined by Boccioni, reflects the fragmented and geometric vocabulary of the Cubist works the artist saw and explored in Paris during the trip of 1911 with Carlo Carrà, when he met Apollinaire and the artists of the French avantgarde through Gino Severini. His was, however, a primitivism intent on returning to the primordial roots of artistic expression, to its power to “suggest” rather than probe the uncontaminated purity of form, as in the case of his French contemporaries. Boccioni’s Antigrazioso opens up a new category of the visible developed above all in the portraits of his mother; a study that frees structure from the confines of the surface and reshapes it in plaster in all its three-dimensional reality (Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea) with the aim of transgressing the age-old Italian canon of “resemblance and childish optical trickery.”
First owned by Margherita Sarfatti, who was probably the subject, the portrait develops in leaden, metallic shades of brown and red on the diagonal of the figure through the overlapping of pictorial substance. An anti-classical manifesto and the inspiration for the title of a work by Carrà in 1916, the work is perfectly in harmony with the views of the critic Sarfatti, who was very close in that period to the Futurists and to Boccioni in particular.
1 Boccioni 1914, pp. 161-162.