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Art Through Time: A Global View

The Urban Experience Art: The City Rises

» Umberto Boccioni (Italian, 1882–1916)

The City Rises

The City Rises
Artist / Origin: Umberto Boccioni (Italian, 1882–1916)
Region: Europe
Date: 1910
Period: 1900 CE – 2010 CE
Material: Oil on canvas
Medium: Painting
Dimensions: H: 78.5 in. (199 cm.), W: 118.5 in. (301 cm.)
Location: The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Credit: © The Museum of Modern Art, Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY

When F.T. Marinetti founded the Futurist movement in 1909, it was largely literary in nature.

The following year, however, Umberto Boccioni was a central figure in articulating the ideas underpinning the visual arts component. Futurist painters were interested in technological progress and the energy of the urban environment. Their subjects included speeding trains, electricity, and the utopian dream of transforming Italy into a modern nation. This group of artists produced images of surging crowds, hard work, and dynamic machines. Early in his career, Boccioni worked as a painter along with notable Futurist colleagues Gino Severini and Giacomo Balla. By 1912–1913 he had shifted to a different medium, making some of the best-known and most important works of Futurist sculpture.

Spanning almost ten feet across, The City Rises is a monumental painting that depicts the construction of an electric power plant. In this idealized scene, the structure being built is overshadowed by the workers whose activities fill most of the canvas. Boccioni’s celebration of the masculine proletariat is evident in his representation of these figures, whose powerful bodies lean at impossible angles as they exert themselves in service to the task at hand.

Many of the Futurists expressed disappointment with Italian cities such as Venice that seemed to them to dwell excessively on the past. Marinetti went so far as to call the museums of Italy “graveyards.” The ideal city of the Futurists was a place like Milan, industrial and forward-looking; it is Milan that rises in Boccioni’s painting. The heroic representation of the workers and the wing-like yoke of the painting’s oversized horse together mythologize the building of this modern city.

Additional Resources

Cohen, Ester, Matthew Gale, et al. Futurism. Milan: 5 Continents Editions, 2009.

The Museum of Modern Art Web site.

Humphreys, Richard. Futurism (Movements in Modern Art). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Poggi, Christine. Inventing Futurism: The Art and Politics of Artificial Optimism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008.

Spate, Virginia. “Mother and Son: Boccioni’s Painting and Sculpture 1906–1915.” In In Visible Touch: Modernism and Masculinity, edited by Terry E. Smith, 107–138. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

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