Giacomo Balla: A life on the move

artist balla charcoal dachshund dog futurism ink italy movement Mar 16, 2023

Giacomo Balla (18 July 1871 – 1 March 1958) was an Italian painter, art teacher and poet best known as a key proponent of Futurism.

In his paintings he depicted light, movement and speed. He was concerned with expressing movement in his works, but unlike other leading futurists he was not interested in machines or violence with his works tending towards the witty and whimsical.

Giacomo Balla was born in Turin, in the Piedmont region of Italy. He was the son of a photographer.

At age nine, after the death of his father he began working in a lithograph print shop.

By age 20, his interest in visual art had developed to such a level that he decided to study painting at local academies, and several of his early works were shown at exhibitions.

Following his academic studies Balla moved to Rome in 1895, where he met and later married Elisa Marcucci.

For several years he worked in Rome as an illustrator, caricaturist and portrait painter. His work featured regularly in major galleries across Europe.

In 1900 Balla spent seven months in Paris assisting the illustrator Serafino Macchiati.

About 1903 he began to instruct Gino Severini and Umberto Boccioni in divisionist painting techniques. Divisionism, also called chromoluminarism, defined by the separation of colours into individual dots or patches which interacted optically.

By requiring the viewer to combine the colours optically instead of physically mixing pigments, Divisionists believed they were achieving the maximum luminosity scientifically possible. Georges Seurat founded the style around 1884

Chronophotographic studies of animals in motion, created by scientist Étienne-Jules Marey beginning in the 1880s, led to the introduction in painting of techniques to show motion, such as blurring, multiplication, and superimposition of body parts—perhaps in an effort to imitate these mechanical images. Such multiplication can be seen in Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2.

Influenced by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Giacomo Balla adopted the Futurism style, creating a pictorial depiction of light, movement and speed. He was a signatory of the Futurist Manifesto in 1910.

The Hand of the Violinist (The Rhythms of the Bow) is a 1912 painting, depicting a musician's hand and the neck of a violin "made to look like it's vibrating through space”. It’s blurred and duplicated to suggest the motion of frenetic playing. The painting, representative of Futurism's first wave, exhibits techniques of Divisionism.

As with other Futurists, he was also inspired by Cubism's methods of capturing multiple perspectives; The Hand of the Violinist has been said to bring the viewer "inside the reverberations of the instrument itself”. From February to August 2014, the painting was part of the exhibit Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe, at the Guggenheim in New York.

Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash

The painting depicts a dachshund on a leash and the feet of a lady walking it, both in rapid motion as indicated by the blurring and multiplication of their parts. He depicts the decomposition of movement into moments in time.

Balla's interest in capturing a single moment in a series of planes is illustrated here. In later, more abstract works created during World War I, Balla used planes of colour to suggest movement.


In 1914, he began to design Futurist furniture, as well as so-called Futurist "antineutral" clothing. Balla also began working as a sculptor, creating, in 1915, the well-known work titled Boccioni's Fist, based on 'lines of force'. 


During World War I, Balla's studio became a meeting place for young artists.

In 1935, he was made a member of Rome's Accademia di San Luca.

In 1955, Balla participated in the documenta 1 in Kassel.

He died on 1 March 1958 in Rome.

 If you would like to learn more about this fascinating artist, please come along to the online workshop on the 23rd March 10 - 12 on zoom. You can purchase a ticket here: 


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