Click on photos to enlarge.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Giacomo Balla

Giacomo Balla Self-portrait, ca. 1902
Around 1910, there was a new, "hot" word in art: dynamic. A generation before an American photographer, Eadweard Muybridge, may have invented the word. By the late 1870s photographic emulsions, though still crude by modern standards, had matured sufficiently as to allow relatively short exposure times. This development, in turn, allowed Muybridge to use multiple cameras, evenly spaced, rigged to be "tripped" by animals moving in front of them, thus producing what were, in effect, crude "flip-books" photos of the animal's movement. These pioneering efforts lead, of course, to Edison and motion pictures around the turn of the century.

Stairway of Farewells, 1908, Giacomo Balla
Balla here studies the infinite "motion" of the
stairs juxtaposed against the motionless figures.
Though the historic evidence is scant, visually it's quite evident that an Italian Artist named Giacomo Balla, in the early decades of the 20th century, was highly influenced by Muybridge's "dynamic" studies, not to mention early motion pictures (as opposed to "movies"). Balla was born in 1871 in Turin, Italy, and during his early years studied music, before turning to painting. During the first decade of the new century, Balla's briefly explored impressionism and Seurat's Pointillism, then gradually moved toward studying movement on his canvases. His paintings took on the appearance of rapid-fire multiple exposures (far more rapid than anything photography could handle at the time). The effect is also far more beautiful in paint than the work of Muybridge or Edison. But such efforts came face to face with one fundamental problem which painters still confront today--the medium does not lend itself naturally to movement. Despite Balla's best efforts (and they were quite outstanding, then and now) they merely studied movement, rather than depicting it.
Flight of the Swift, 1913, Giacomo Balla
Around 1896 in Paris, early motion picture pioneers, the Lumiere Brothers, set up a primitive motion picture projector before a white sheet hung on a wall, and a few dozen viewers. They presented several very short demonstration features, one of which was the arrival of a train at railway station. They even went so far as to film a short segment from the middle of the tracks as the train approached. The unexpected effect in showing it was to send their audience scrambling from their seats. With all due respect to Giacomo Balla, that's the difference in depicting motion and merely studying it using an inadequate media.

Black and White Futurist Force Field, 1916, Giacomo Balla. In just three years Balla moved from studying the movement of representational content to Picasso's cubism
and Futurism with a science fiction element.


  1. I think this self portrait may be misattributed. Could it be the work of Jacek Malczewski?

    1. Mona--

      I don't see why not. Inasmuch as I can't seem to find my original photo source I'll take your word for it. Actually, all the other sources seem to agree with you. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, I've corrected the image.--Jim