When science inspires art: futurism and chronophotography

When science inspires art: futurism and chronophotography

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Home ›Studies› When science inspires art: futurism and chronophotography

  • Animal movement.

    MUYBRIDGE Eadweard (1830 - 1904)

  • Plaster casting: flight of the Goéland.

    MAREY Etienne-Jules (1830 - 1904)

  • Plastic synthesis of a woman's movements.

    RUSSOLO Luigi (1885 - 1947)

  • Unique forms of continuity in space.

    BOCCIONI Umberto (1882 - 1916)

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Title: Animal movement.

Author : MUYBRIDGE Eadweard (1830 - 1904)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Electro-Photography of the consecutive phases of a moving animal, in Volume I, Men, circa 1880, plate 287.

Storage place: The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

Contact copyright: © Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Image of the MMA

Picture reference: 08-512475 / 1991.1135.1

© Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Image of the MMA

Plaster casting: flight of the Goéland.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

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Title: Plastic synthesis of a woman's movements.

Author : RUSSOLO Luigi (1885 - 1947)

Creation date : 1912

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage place: Grenoble Museum website

Contact copyright: © Grenoble Museum

Picture reference: 98 hp 52 / MG 3036

Plastic synthesis of a woman's movements.

© Grenoble Museum

To close

Title: Unique forms of continuity in space.

Author : BOCCIONI Umberto (1882 - 1916)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 111 - Width 88.5

Technique and other indications: Bronze sculpture.

Storage place: Civico Museo d'Arte Contemporanea website

Contact copyright: © Archives Alinari, Florence, Dist RMN-Grand Palais / Mauro Maglianisite web

Picture reference: 08-520648 / CAL-F-005715-0000

Unique forms of continuity in space.

© Archives Alinari, Florence, Dist RMN-Grand Palais / Mauro Magliani

Publication date: April 2009

Historical context

The dynamism of modern life

For the avant-garde of the early twentiethe century, art must represent contemporary society. In order to fit in with the present and to portray modernity, the artists then attempt to invent new artistic means which transpose the characteristics of industrial civilization into visual language.

Futurists in particular seek to express the dynamism of modern life: they consider movement and speed as the most significant phenomena of the XXe dawning century. The bicycle, the automobile, the train, these recent inventions, are rapid means of locomotion which reduce distances; objects, people, are subject to a general acceleration of rhythms (of work, wear and tear, production, innovation, etc.); the development of sport emphasizes the body in motion.

Chronophotography, a new scientific technique invented by Étienne Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge to study animal and human locomotion, is an important source of inspiration for them: it provides them with a graphic solution to express the phases of a movement in their works.

Image Analysis

Represent the movement

Marey and Muybridge had the idea of ​​using photography to analyze movement in the 1870s: it allows, thanks to the multiplication of shots and their serialization, to capture the way in which a human or a person moves. animal. The photos that illustrate the publications of the two scientists strike futurists with their dynamism. These artists then reproduce in their works the decomposition of movement visible in chronophotographs.

In the plate taken from Muybridge's book, a man picking up something from the ground is photographed several times so as to produce a series of images that detail each component of the gesture. The different shots are then juxtaposed to render it in its entirety. The plaster cast made from Marey's chronophotographs also breaks down the movements of a living being - the flight of a seagull - but the photographs taken successively have this time been brought together into a single representation. Having taken these pictures on the same celluloid film, Marey then superimposed them with a slight offset to give a synthetic image.

Futurists use the effect created by these photographs to convey the sensation of movement in their works. Luigi Russolo, in Plastic synthesis of a woman's movements, multiply the representations of the figure in such a way that it seems to invade the space of the painting: the head and feet painted several times side by side form two opposite arcs at the top and bottom of the painting while the body , gradually reduced to a set of curved lines, seems to expand horizontally to infinity. He thus seeks to transcribe the gestures of his model, the way in which the woman he paints moves and, more generally, to make people feel human dynamism, immobility not being natural to men. In Unique forms of continuity in space, Umberto Boccioni merges even more the different stages of the movement of his character, who then seems stretched forwards and backwards. The title of the work should be taken literally: the artist merges the successive gestures of a walking individual into a single form. In both works, curved abstract shapes amplify the dynamic sensation by generating a sort of figurative echo of the action, a shock wave that increasingly faintly and abstractly reproduces the movement of the figure.


Modern art

In these two works, Russolo and Boccioni reinterpreted the aesthetic formula of chronophotographs, but certain futuristic paintings, such Dynamism of a dog on a leash by Giacomo Balla (1912, Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo), exactly reproduce the process of Muybridge and Marey by successively painting the different stages of an action on the same canvas. In a way, the Futurists were inspired by the work of these two scientists because they had a similar goal: like Muybridge and Marey, they seek to show a body moving in space. However, while the former decompose movement to better understand the mechanisms of animal and human locomotion, the latter's task is to render the sensation of movement plastically so that the viewer can feel the dynamism of the subject represented.

Such a transposition of recent scientific research also has special significance for these artists. Imitating the effects of chronophotography is a way of inscribing contemporaneity in their works: the futurists thus show that they are not cut off from the present and that their art accompanies scientific and technical progress. They then forged links with science, an emblematic discipline of modernity since it was at the origin of most of the upheavals that affected the time.

  • chronophotography
  • futurism
  • modernism
  • modernity


François DAGOGNET, Etienne-Jules Marey. Passion for the track, Paris, Hazan, 1987. Gérard-Georges LEMAIRE, Futurism, Paris, Editions du Regard, 1995.Giovanni LISTA, Futurism, Paris, Terrail, 2001.Franck POPPER, Kinetic art. The image of movement in the visual arts since 1860, Paris, Gauthier-Villars Publisher, 1970.Kirk VARNEDOE, In defiance of the rules. How is modern art modern?, Paris, Adam Biro, 1990.

To cite this article

Claire LE THOMAS, "When science inspires art: futurism and chronophotography"

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