One of the aims of the Italian Futurists was to put the viewer into the picture, to involve him mentally and emotionally in the dynamics of modern life. In his ''Red Cross train passing through a village,'' painted in 1915, Gino Severini showed himself to be a Futurist of the first order.
In this single canvas Severini observes every dictum set forth in the Futurist Manifesto, formulated in 1909 by the Italian writer Filippo Marinetti - to discard traditional forms, to glorify speed, change, violence, war, and the machine. The Futurists also attempted to show all things as happening at once. They later made the mistake of glorifying fascism, but the force of their movement was all but spent at the close of World War I.
In making their break from traditional forms, the Futurists settled on Cubism , the first major departure from the past and the only wholly modern technique available to them in 1909.
Severini (1882-1966) was the artist whose synthesis of Cubism and Futurism successfully carried the Futurist movement outside of Italy. Moving to Paris in 1906, he joined the circle of avant-garde artists and writers that included Braque, Picasso, and Apollinaire. It was Severini who got Marinetti's Manifesto published in Le Figaro on February 20, 1909. Here Marinetti took a position that was no more popular then than it would be today: ''We will destroy museums, libraries, and fight against moralism, feminism, and all utilitarian cowardice.''
While the Cubists favored still life, portraiture, figure painting, and landscape, the Futurists celebrated motion in such subjects as speeding automobiles, trains, cyclists, dancers, animals.
In the painting shown on this page Severini puts the spectator into the picture. You are the one who lives in that tranquil village. It is your sunny afternoon that is invaded by the roar of the Red Cross train, speeding on its errand of mercy during troubled war-torn times. You see the white barrier as it lowers at the crossing; you hear the steam hissing and the bells ringing while you see the signals flash, and you smell the billowing smoke of the burning coal. All things are happening at once.
Italian Futurism traveled far and wide during its heyday. In 1910 it took root in Russia, again with the aim of rejecting the art of the past and creating an art of the future. Founded by the poet Viktor Khlebnikov and later developed by the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, Russian Futurism differed from its European counterpart, especially in its social and political stance.
Severini was unable to sustain his own interest in Futurism for more than a decade. In 1921 he abandoned Cubism and Pointillism, adopting the Neo-Classical figurative style that he would retain for the rest of his career.