Trivium Art History

Riot in the Galleria

Riot in the Galleria, 1909 — Umberto Boccioni,
64 cm76 cm

Umberto Boccioni’s 1910 Riot in the Galleria is an example of early Futurist painting, executed with a late 19th-century Divisionist method. Riot in the Galleria depicts frenzied spectators around a shocking fight between two women—thought to be prostitutes—in Milan’s famous indoor mall, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Boccioni portrays this disruptive, albeit largely bourgeois, crowd outside a café in a brightly lit shopping arcade—a space created for the relatively new culture of consumption (where the prostitutes are exemplars of the ultimate commodity). Through these interrelated inclusions—the crowd, disruption, consumption, electric light—Boccioni’s nocturnal urban street scene touches on several Futurist preoccupations and epitomizes contemporary city life, a favorite overarching theme of Futurism, all the while realized in a passatista(old-fashioned) style. In Riot in the Galleria, Boccioni concentrates equally on a politicized subject and on painting technique.

In Riot in the Galleria, Boccioni’s surface is a tight-knit tapestry of painstakingly precise Divisionist brushwork. While the picture is ostensibly focused on a street fight, the top half is all about painting. In the upper part of the composition Boccioni revels in the potential and pleasure of pigment and color as he explores the chromatic effects created by artificial light. The electric street lamps illuminating the vaulted space of the Galleria are glowing orbs encircled by brilliant halos of tiny radiating brushstrokes. Boccioni also uses color to show the play of light across the Galleria’s architecture: yellows and oranges dominate the flat faces of the piers, while recessed zones are defined by blue-green hues. The indoor lighting emitting from the café not only appears in sunburst-like flashes, but also demonstrates Boccioni’s skill in representing the transparency of the glass windows and doors, which further refract light and color.

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