Biography

Towards Futurism

He was born in a small village, perched on the top of the Val di Non in Trentino, at the time a far southern province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but when he was still very young, after a short stay in Merano, the family moved to Rovereto. Depero’s activity before he joined Futurism has not  been adequately studied yet, although some very interesting contributions should be duly mentioned, first by Luigi Lambertini (1) and then by Bruno Passamani (2), who wrote short notes, essays, chapters of monographic works on the artist. The first art products by Depero (the most ancient known until now) can be dated back to 1907 when the artist was fifteen and attended the III course of the Royal Elisabettina School in Rovereto, a sort of High School with a specialization in applied arts, a type of school then very widespread throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the time, was gathered there a group of young students and almost all of them, later on became protagonists of the Italian art of the ‘900: Tullio Garbari, painter; Carlo Belli, theorist of abstract art; Fausto Melotti, sculptor; Luciano Baldessari, architect; Adalberto Libera, architect; Ettore Sottsass Senior, architect; and, indeed, Fortunato Depero … just to mention the most popular ones.

He was born in a small village, perched on the top of the Val di Non in Trentino, at the time a far southern province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but when he was still very young, after a short stay in Merano, the family moved to Rovereto. Depero’s activity before he joined Futurism has not  been adequately studied yet, although some very interesting contributions should be duly mentioned, first by Luigi Lambertini (1) and then by Bruno Passamani (2), who wrote short notes, essays, chapters of monographic works on the artist. The first art products by Depero (the most ancient known until now) can be dated back to 1907 when the artist was fifteen and attended the III course of the Royal Elisabettina School in Rovereto, a sort of High School with a specialization in applied arts, a type of school then very widespread throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the time, was gathered there a group of young students and almost all of them, later on became protagonists of the Italian art of the ‘900: Tullio Garbari, painter; Carlo Belli, theorist of abstract art; Fausto Melotti, sculptor; Luciano Baldessari, architect; Adalberto Libera, architect; Ettore Sottsass Senior, architect; and, indeed, Fortunato Depero … just to mention the most popular ones.

Another art critic, Carlo Piovan, described those first drawings as «veristic sketches in Indian ink with the scholastic technique of light signs thicker and less thick»(3). Soon, however, under the guidance of Luigi Comel, a free-hand drawing professor, Depero also started using watercolor and charcoal. Surely was fundamental, in 1909, a short stay in Turin, where he attended a course in sculpture, met and knew Canonica, introduced by his fellow citizen, the sculptor Carlo Fait (Carlo Belli’s uncle) who worked in the studio of the artist in Turin. Upon his return to Rovereto, he began an internship that lasted over a year and from 1910 linked him to the marble worker Scanagatta: it was a highly formative experience as it led out the overwhelming plastic attitude of the young Depero. Another element to consider in the context of his training is, towards 1913, the particular cultural climate, of a dual nature, to which he was exposed. On one hand there is the evident, and rising, adherence to Futurism (4), on the other the strong Central European influences due to the geographical position, as well as to the political situation of Trentino, which was then the extreme southern border area of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In 1913 Depero published his first book, Spezzature (Odd writings), a collection of poetic compositions, prose, thoughts and drawings: a jumble of sensations and allusions between Symbolism and Futurism with veiled accents of Cubism, as this passage confirms: «And then a fragment of me, of my portrait: multi-faceted block, many mirrors that reflect my face». In Spezzature there is also a tangle of decadent, irredentist and fantastic images and assonances as well as an environmental, if not theatrical, propensity of Nature. Then there is the Nitzschian component, where Depero speaks of «sharp lights, inebriating reflections of gold, scarlet reds and brass yellows» which is just too obvious to match with a statement by Zarathustra: «Intense yellow and ardent red, this is what wants my taste, which mixes the blood with all the colors»(5).

Another art critic, Carlo Piovan, described those first drawings as «veristic sketches in Indian ink with the scholastic technique of light signs thicker and less thick»(3). Soon, however, under the guidance of Luigi Comel, a free-hand drawing professor, Depero also started using watercolor and charcoal. Surely was fundamental, in 1909, a short stay in Turin, where he attended a course in sculpture, met and knew Canonica, introduced by his fellow citizen, the sculptor Carlo Fait (Carlo Belli’s uncle) who worked in the studio of the artist in Turin. Upon his return to Rovereto, he began an internship that lasted over a year and from 1910 linked him to the marble worker Scanagatta: it was a highly formative experience as it led out the overwhelming plastic attitude of the young Depero. Another element to consider in the context of his training is, towards 1913, the particular cultural climate, of a dual nature, to which he was exposed. On one hand there is the evident, and rising, adherence to Futurism (4), on the other the strong Central European influences due to the geographical position, as well as to the political situation of Trentino, which was then the extreme southern border area of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In 1913 Depero published his first book, Spezzature (Odd writings), a collection of poetic compositions, prose, thoughts and drawings: a jumble of sensations and allusions between Symbolism and Futurism with veiled accents of Cubism, as this passage confirms: «And then a fragment of me, of my portrait: multi-faceted block, many mirrors that reflect my face». In Spezzature there is also a tangle of decadent, irredentist and fantastic images and assonances as well as an environmental, if not theatrical, propensity of Nature. Then there is the Nitzschian component, where Depero speaks of «sharp lights, inebriating reflections of gold, scarlet reds and brass yellows» which is just too obvious to match with a statement by Zarathustra: «Intense yellow and ardent red, this is what wants my taste, which mixes the blood with all the colors»(5).

However his painting, or rather his imagerie, despite these theoretical approaches to Futurism, remains even closer to the taste of the grotesque, to a certain moralism of Goya’s whims, to that of Daumier, or Alberto Martini’s. Stylistically, the pictorial works of this period are plastically sculptural, virile, and immediately refer to those of an Egger Lienz, a master of the Alpine area, rather than to the futurists’ ones.

Those were crucial years for the small town of Rovereto. Despite the distance from Vienna there was indeed a Central European climate, with influences from Austria as well as from the neighbouring Italy. They were also the years of the first irredentist uprisings, for the annexation of Trentino to Italy, and Cesare Battisti, the interventionist hero, already held his first speeches inflaming the crowds. The young avidly read the works by Nietzsche and D’Annunzio, and magazines such as “Ver Sacrum”, “La Voce” and “Poesia”, while, in Italy, the Futurist revolt was already exploding. It was an extremely stimulating atmosphere for a young intellectual, and in any case for an artist.

In 1913 Depero exhibited in Rovereto at the Giovannini Bookshop (where he had held two other exhibitions in 1911): drawings of social realism and symbolism. Later on in autumn he started an intense work on volume and his grotesque drawings gradually lost that realistic tone, to take on geometrizing connotations. The bodies are faceted and solved in pure masses.

At the end of the year, in December, he went to Rome and visited Boccioni’s exhibition at the Futurist Gallery of Sprovieri, remaining deeply impressed and returning to it more times on continuous “pilgrimages”. Boccioni’s influence can immediately be seen in a brief but intense cycle of sketches on dynamism where an almost net cut with the previous production is already verifiable. The symbolist or jugendstil themes disappeared, the artist confronts himself with pure matter, with objects, with bodies, which are analyzed and broken down into their movements and their structure.

However his painting, or rather his imagerie, despite these theoretical approaches to Futurism, remains even closer to the taste of the grotesque, to a certain moralism of Goya’s whims, to that of Daumier, or Alberto Martini’s. Stylistically, the pictorial works of this period are plastically sculptural, virile, and immediately refer to those of an Egger Lienz, a master of the Alpine area, rather than to the futurists’ ones.

Those were crucial years for the small town of Rovereto. Despite the distance from Vienna there was indeed a Central European climate, with influences from Austria as well as from the neighbouring Italy. They were also the years of the first irredentist uprisings, for the annexation of Trentino to Italy, and Cesare Battisti, the interventionist hero, already held his first speeches inflaming the crowds. The young avidly read the works by Nietzsche and D’Annunzio, and magazines such as “Ver Sacrum”, “La Voce” and “Poesia”, while, in Italy, the Futurist revolt was already exploding. It was an extremely stimulating atmosphere for a young intellectual, and in any case for an artist.

In 1913 Depero exhibited in Rovereto at the Giovannini Bookshop (where he had held two other exhibitions in 1911): drawings of social realism and symbolism. Later on in autumn he started an intense work on volume and his grotesque drawings gradually lost that realistic tone, to take on geometrizing connotations. The bodies are faceted and solved in pure masses.

At the end of the year, in December, he went to Rome and visited Boccioni’s exhibition at the Futurist Gallery of Sprovieri, remaining deeply impressed and returning to it more times on continuous “pilgrimages”. Boccioni’s influence can immediately be seen in a brief but intense cycle of sketches on dynamism where an almost net cut with the previous production is already verifiable. The symbolist or jugendstil themes disappeared, the artist confronts himself with pure matter, with objects, with bodies, which are analyzed and broken down into their movements and their structure.

However if in thematic terms the change is evident, from a formal point of view the passage is more gradual. In fact these first transitional works (like Ritmi di ballerina+clowns  Rhythms of a dancer-girl + clowns) are spread with a dense, full-bodied, fat painting, a typical painting of the Alpine area and in any case in the “Austrian” ways. Shortly after, however, Depero met Balla  which led him to a further detachment: the one from Boccioni. Detachment already visible in Scomposizione di una ragazza che corre (Scomposition of a running gir)l, dated 1914, where the most immediate reference is precisely Ragazza che corre sul balcone (Girl who runs on the balcony) painted by Giacomo Balla in 1912.

However if in thematic terms the change is evident, from a formal point of view the passage is more gradual. In fact these first transitional works (like Ritmi di ballerina+clowns  Rhythms of a dancer-girl + clowns) are spread with a dense, full-bodied, fat painting, a typical painting of the Alpine area and in any case in the “Austrian” ways. Shortly after, however, Depero met Balla  which led him to a further detachment: the one from Boccioni. Detachment already visible in Scomposizione di una ragazza che corre (Scomposition of a running gir)l, dated 1914, where the most immediate reference is precisely Ragazza che corre sul balcone (Girl who runs on the balcony) painted by Giacomo Balla in 1912.

Notes

  1. Luigi Lambertini, Appunti per un’indagíne sull’opera di Depero, in: «Il Cristallo», Bolzano, giugno 1969.
  2. Bruno Passamani, Preistoria di Depero, in: Fortunato Depero (monograph), Rovereto, 1981.
  3. Carlo Piovan, Depero, in: “Studi Trentini di Scienze Storiche”, anno XLII, n. 4, Trento, 1963:
  4. Depero is a subscriber to “Lacerba” since the first issues.
  5. Quoted by Maurizio Calvesi in the analysis of the original motives of Futurism in: L’Arte Moderna, vol.V, Il Futurismo, Milano, 1973.

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Abstractionist Futurist

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