On 18 September 1913, Umberto Boccioni , departed Milan for Berlin, where the  German painters Franz Marc and August Macke were already at work installing Futurist and Expressionist paintings for what would become known as one of the defining moments of the historical avant-garde.

By Jean Marie Carey

On 18 September 1913, Umberto Boccioni, departed Milan for Berlin, where the  German painters Franz Marc and August Macke were already at work installing Futurist and Expressionist paintings for what would become known as one of the defining moments of the historical avant-garde. The autumnal equinox of 20 September marks the anniversary of the Erster deutscher Herbstsalon, the milestone exhibition in Berlin organized primarily by Herwarth Walden (1879-1941). Walden, the founder of the Der Sturm enterprise, which included the eponymous arts and culture publication and an exhibition space, assembled an international cadre of contemporary artists from the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Russia, Switzerland, France, and Italy. Among the Italian Futurists, who had a concentrated appearance with sixteen works, were Boccioni, Giacomo Balla, Carlo Carra, Luigi Russolo, Gino Severini and Soffici Ardengo.

The enthusiastically avant-garde, anti-bourgeois Walden was attracted to the energy and irreverence of the Futurists and also recognized that a synthesis between literature and the visual arts was a key component of vanguard culture. Walden had published Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s “Manifesto del Futurismo” in Der Sturm in March 1912 and presented the group’s traveling exhibit the same year. Nonetheless communication difficulties and egos presented challenges to the Herbstsalon’s international participants, as did critics, who almost universally gave vicious reviews to the show, and the public, which largely avoided the exhibit altogether.

Boccioni, combative toward Cubism and sparring with the Parisian arts press, was concerned that the theoretical aspects of Futurism were being overlooked by the Germans as well. While this may have been largely true of the majority of the conservative art critics in Berlin, in fact the words of both Boccioni and Marinetti were taken quite seriously by Germany’s writing community, an appreciation that continued after the war, when both Expressionism and Futurism continued more fully as literary forms.

Walden was also at the forefront of the creation of the extravagant exhibition catalogue: The publication devoted to the show was originally scheduled to feature 366 images reflecting the work of 90 artists. The book ended up with 50 black and white photographic reproductions – still generous for the time – although some of the depicted works ended up not actually appearing in the exhibition.

Reference: John White. “Futurism and German Expressionism” in International Futurism in Arts and Literature, ed. Günter Berghaus. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2000.

Umberto Boccioni, Spiralförmige ausdehnung von muskeln in bewegung, plaster model, photograph published in 1913 in the catalogue for the Erster deutscher Herbstsalon, Berlin.

Carlo Carrà, Ciò che mi ha detto il tram, 1911. Photo: Museo di arte moderna e contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto.

Umberto Boccioni, La strada entra nella casa, 1911. Photo: The Sprengel Museum, Hannover.

Umberto Boccioni, La città che sale, 1910-11. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Umberto Boccioni, Le forze di una strada, 1911. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Gino Severini, Ricordi di viaggio, 1911. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Further Reading:

Herwarth Walden. Einblick in Kunst: Expressionismus, Futurismus, Kubismus. Berlin: Verlag der Sturm, 1917.

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

Florian Illies and Shaun Whiteside. 1913: The Year Before the Storm. Brooklyn: Melville House, 2014.

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