Obelisk Art History
The Artists

Fortunato Depero
The heartbreaking sincerity of genius

Fortunato Depero, The ArtistsBird in Motion
Portrait of Fortunato Depero

The work of Fortunato Depero is an alien encounter in our post-modern, post-pandemic world. The Italian Futurist used bright primary colors to illustrate glossy robotic figures in tilting cityscapes. He worked across every conceivable medium—paintings, posters, graphic design, costume design, toys. He dreamt of building a museum, and in its stead carried around a massive book documenting his technicolor visions. Forever energetic, childlike and fun, Depero’s work feels like the product of an alternative universe for its heartbreaking sincerity.

Fortunato Depero was born in 1892 and raised in Rovereto, a beautiful river town ringed by mountains in northern Italy’s Lagarina Valley. He studied applied arts at the Scuola Reale Elisabettina, or Royal Elizabeth School, and at eighteen was apprenticed to a marble worker. A few years later, on a trip to Florence, Depero stumbled across one of the first issues of the Futurist literary magazine Lacerba. The young artist lit like dynamite. Thrilled at the prospect of a new Italian aesthetic, Depero got in touch with the editors of Lacerba and began experimenting in the nascent futurist style. He moved to Rome the same year, in December of 1913, twenty-one years old and broke.

The right place at the right time

But Depero got lucky—one of his first stops in Rome, was a show of work by Umberto Boccioni at the Galleria Sprovieri, where he met Giacomo Balla. Balla was already an established force in the avant garde, having signed the first Futurist Manifesto in 1910 and painted his famous Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash in 1912. Depero’s enthusiasm must have impressed Balla, who invited the young artist to live with him and his wife. The two became long-time friends, and Balla soon introduced Depero to a cadre of Futurist luminaries including Marinetti, Luigi Russolo, and Cangiullo and helped get Depero’s artwork shown at the Sprovieri Gallery.

In true futurist fashion, the pinnacle of the Balla-Depero collaboration was a manifesto—the Ricostruzione futurista dell’universo, or Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe. In it, the two artists acknowledge the intellectual and artistic successes of the Futurist movement, but call for something infinitely more grand—total transformation of the trappings of modern society, from graphic design to children’s toys, into futurist art objects: “total fusion in order to reconstruct the universe making it more joyful...by a complete re-creation.” An audacious, even naive call to action, but Depero immediately set to work to make it a reality.


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Reed Enger, "Fortunato Depero, The heartbreaking sincerity of genius," in Obelisk Art History, Published August 16, 2021; last modified March 31, 2022, http://arthistoryproject.com/artists/fortunato-depero/.

Fortunato Depero was an Italian artist born on March 30, 1892. Depero contributed to the Futurist movement, worked in the United States and died on November 29, 1960.

Total fusion in order to reconstruct the universe making it more joyful

The Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe

1915
Bird in Motion, Fortunato Depero

Bird in Motion

1916
Rotating Ballerina and Parrots, Fortunato Depero

Rotating Ballerina and Parrots

1917
Monkey Marionette for Balli Plastici, Fortunato Depero

Monkey Marionette for Balli Plastici

1918
Rooster Marionette for Balli Plastici, Fortunato Depero

Rooster Marionette for Balli Plastici

1918
Automaton with a Pipe, Fortunato Depero

Automaton with a Pipe

1917-1920
The House of the Magician, Fortunato Depero

The House of the Magician

1920
Futurist Waistcoat, Fortunato Depero

Futurist Waistcoat

1923
Heart Eaters, Fortunato Depero

Heart Eaters

1923

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