Umberto Boccioni’s Series: “State of Mind”

In Art Historical Papers, Uncategorized on November 18, 2009 at 9:38 pm



The Farewells were painted by Umberto Boccioni in 1911 using oil on canvas.  The subject is a train station with passengers boarding two train cars.   Boccioni has not painted this work in a naturalist fashion.   It is evident Boccioni was not attempting to communicate to his audience simply the image of a train station; rather his agenda was to invoke the sense of motion, not only temporally, but sociologically.  (That is to say Boccioni conveys the innovation of the train as a method of public transport as well as a method for molding social behavior.)  This attempt is successful due to his use of geometric shapes which are in juxtaposition with the implication of a train station, and smoke. The majority of the composition appears to be smoke, immersing the train.  Through the smoke there are emerging figures.  These figures are comprised of cylinder and triangular shapes.  Each angle is shaded and penetrates the smoke that looms. The figures are green, and at first glance could be seen as smoke flowing out of the train.

 The geometric shapes give the viewer sense of firmness.  That is to say they provide a sensation of a stable foundation in which the train station rests upon; it is important to note, that these senses are implied.  The viewer is not allowed to see the platform, or any other indication of stability with in the station.    As the viewer concludes they are figures, the conversation of perpetual motion ensues.   This collection of rudimentary geometric shapes are frozen in a complex state of motion.  These figures evoke a sense of the reminiscent; people swarming and herding like cattle to board a elephantine piece of machinery that will hurdle their physical being to their chosen destination.   This concept, this capability, has shaped society in away that now allows the masses to travel together, to go places that until this point, they were not capable of visiting as easily.   Boccioni has allowed the viewer to experience this same novel excitement through his vision.   Every brush stroke is visible; the indentations in the paint make it apparent that a large amount of force was utilized to construct this work.   With this evidence, one can state that the artist possibly  felt strongly about the subject.  With each application of paint, the swirls of colored smoke and thrashing veins of pigment force feeds the viewer the implication of movement.   The agitation in the work is so apparent; Boccioni has left the viewer no choice but to be confronted by it.

  The only elements that are stationary are the numbers of the train (6943) and what appears to be an oil tower. This tower is located in the top left corner.  The tower itself is not in motion, yet our view of it is.  It is being left in the background, on the cusp of fading into the distance.  Yet, the tower itself acts a symbol of this growing society, a reminder of commerce.

The signal lights are floating within the foreground.  This allows the viewer to confirm the identity of the train station, yet does not allow us to see any familiar elements of the station.  We are left with what the artist has been inclined to show us, which is not always what we can recognize.

     Boccioni has enabled the viewer to peer into a time of great change.  He has enabled us to “retinally”  experience sociological metamorphosis.  Boccioni handed the audience a glimpse of economic and social change during the time of machinery and advanced travel.  The world became smaller, and society advanced.  The Farewells construction allows the audience to bare witness to the intensity of such changes.

Boccioni states in the book  written in 1913 called Pittura Scultura Futuriste:

  “Reality is not to be found in the object, but in the transfiguration of the object as it becomes identified with the subject. “[1]  


In other words, as the viewer looks at the train, the resemblance of what is believed to be real does not occur until the viewer can  relate the image with a feeling, name or  other subject that then allows the subject to then be identified. 

In Petrie’s article Boccioni and Bergson he describes the transformation of art as:


 “ A record of his emotions as they were provoked by life, whether as event or as sensation.”

Petrie’s statement is further evidence Boccioni created The “Fairwells” with the agenda of provoking his viewers with the ephemeral knowledge of the dynamism spawned by his observations and reactions  the growing methods of travel.  

In the second piece of this series: “Those who Go”, Boccioni furthers his concept of motion in relation to society.  This work depicts human faces from several vantage points. The sense of motion is no longer only temporal, but social.  The viewer is now conflicted with the notion of the people who have boarded the train, and the confusion they must have endured as they traveled. Their bodies have penetrated the seats of the train, creating an illusion of human heads being transported in a temporal hole or flux. One state of nature was no longer possible in the social order that Boccioni was a part of.

This is further explained visually in the third and final piece of this series “Those who Stay”  Here Boccioni has created predominate vertical lines that covey the feeling or sensation of being left behind. He has shown the viewer the heaviness of being the one who stays behind.  Life was no longer sure or simple.  It was now comprised of heterogeneous elements that were not tangible.

Boccioni has successfully conveyed the elements of social change due to machinery and travel in a form of visual information.  This visual information has the ability to convey sensations and emotions through this series that would not be successfully done in the written word. You can not open a book and read of progress and social revolution during this time, and be confronted by  sense of motion of the same dynamism as will this work. Boccioni has created a series of visual data that allows the viewer the opportunity (if they choose to take it) to experience for a moment, the speeding forward of time, the concept of time and motion and how the relation of two would continue to exist in a state of flux.


[1] Translated by author of the article Boccioni and Bergson, Brian Petrie

  1. it is quite sad that most train stations these days are horrendously overloaded .

  2. Love this. I’m currently studying these pieces in my art history course, though I did have a question. Do you think Boccioni was celebrating or rejecting the modern world through these pieces?

    I know this sounds like a ridiculous question, but what exactly is “the modern world” in art?

    Thank you so much, your input is greatly appreciated.

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