Gino Severini (1883-1966) was one of the leading painters of the Italian futurist movement, which proposed a radical renovation of artistic activity in keeping with the dynamism of modern mechanized life.
Gino Severini was born on April 7, 1883, in Cortona. In Rome in 1901 he met Umberto Boccioni, and the following year he became acquainted with Giacomo Balla, who had studied in Paris. Severini and Boccioni became Balla's pupils. Thus Severini was acquainted with the theories of divisionism when he himself arrived in Paris in 1906. There it was Georges Seurat, above all, who impressed Severini.
In his studio at the Impass Guelma, Severini created his most famous futurist pictures, such as Le Boulevard (1909) and Danse du Pan Pan au Monico (1911). He was particularly attracted by subject matter connected with cabarets and night clubs, and his paintings represent hectic rhythms with dissected and multiplied forms, as in the Dynamic Hieroglyphic of the Bal Tabarin (1912). He was one of the five artists who signed the Futurist Manifesto in 1910, and he took part in the historic exhibitions of the futurist group in Paris, London, and Berlin.
Severini's pictures, painted in Seurat's clear colors, influenced the cubists to lighten their palette, and his personal contribution was to combine the futurist program with the analytical and geometrical spirit of cubism.
In 1915 Severini joined the artists of the Effort Moderne. The experimental work produced in the style of the Section d'Or group led Severini into a transitional period, which he described in his book Du Cubisme au classicisme (1921). In the 1920s he was drawn more to murals than to easel painting, creating a series of harlequins and frescoes, based on the commedia dell'arte, at the Castle of Montefugoni near Florence (1922). He also executed frescoes in Switzerland for churches at Semsales and La Roche (1926-1927), the Capuchin church at Sion, and Notre Dame du Valentin in Lausanne (1935). Severini designed mosaics for the University of Fribourg, Switzerland (ca. 1925), and for the Palace of Art (1933) and the Palace of Justice (1939) in Milan.
Severini's development from a cubist to a neoclassicist style occurred under the influence of Pablo Picasso and the Valori Plastici group. About 1930, however, Severini returned to a sort of decorative cubism. His late work showed a tendency toward concrete art.
In 1950 Severini won a prize at the Venice Biennale. He died in Paris on Feb. 26, 1966.
Severini is discussed in Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Cubism and Abstract Art (1936). Raffaele Carrieri, Avant-garde Painting and Sculpture in Italy, 1890-1955 (1955), gives a panorama of the development of modern Italian art with detailed studies of the leading artists. See also James Thrall Soby and Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Twentieth Century Italian Art (1949), and Guido Ballo, Modern Italian Painting from Futurism to the Present Day (1958).
Severini, Gino, The life of a painter: the autobiography of Gino Severini, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995. □