A crowd is running towards La Buvette, the historic bar of Gaetano Campari in Milan, which was a famous meeting place for artists, writers and intellectuals, also frequented by Boccioni and his cultural circles.
The bar is still located at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, in the heart of the Lombard city which at the beginning of the 20th century was among the most modern, dynamic and productive cities of Europe. Milan was a protagonist of a strong industrial and economic development and an ideal place to capture the rapid movement that Boccioni wanted to represent in his works.
The canvas depicts to women, probably prostitutes, who are beating each other in front of the bar. Their fight becomes an irresistible show for the modern crowd which is rushing to the scene as if they didn’t want to miss the show.
Boccioni painted the work in 1910 when he had not yet fully matured his Futurist painting that would be later characterized by rearranged abstract forms.
Here, in fact, the figures and the city are not well-defined but still quite recognizable.
Riot in the Gallery, however, already contains some elements that were typical of Boccioni’s most developed works, such as dynamism represented by the crowd, and the colors.
The excited figures are moving with their arms wide open and all running to the same direction, as if they wanted to direct our eyes to a specific point. Their movement seems to form a circle around the two fighting women in front of the entrance of the gallery whose figures are highlighted by the bright green and blue clothes they are wearing.
The colors are bright and represent well the rush of the euphoric crowd that is going towards the violent scene like a wave as well as the artificial light coming from the street lamps that illuminates the night and the sign of the bar. Boccioni represented the movement through the colors by using the pointillism technique which consists of painting with small spots of color.
The artist had studied this technique in Paris where it was developed by George Seurat at the end of the 19th century as well as by Gaetano Previati, master of Italian divisionism, and his friend, Balla.
Riot in the Gallery is one of the first works that Boccioni painted using this technique.
Moreover, this scene became an opportunity for the artist to represent Milan with its dazzling lights, cars, clubs, nightlife and social life, but above all he managed to freeze the energy, the euphoria and the movement so dear to him on the canvas. In their Manifesto Boccioni and other Futurists wrote: “Everything moves, everything runs, everything happens fast.
A figure is never stable in front of us but appears and disappears relentlessly”. And this is what Boccioni wanted to express with Riot in the Gallery.
The painting was part of the Jesi collection and it was donated by Maria Jesi to the Pinacoteca di Brera in 1976. The Milanese museum houses also other works from the same collection, donated by Maria in memory of her husband Emilio, who was a great art collector.
Boccioni was a painter and sculptor part of the Futurism movement, who was born in Reggio Calabria where his father, originally from Romagna area, had been transferred for work.
His father’s government employment influenced Umberto’s childhood as he traveled a lot for his father’s frequent transfers. He moved to Forlì, then Genoa and Padua, then in Sicily. Boccioni graduated from the Technical institute of Catania and wrote his first novel, Pene dell’Anima.
At the beginning of the new century Umberto moved to Rome. He began to study painting and met Gino Severini and Giacomo Balla, already experienced painter who had a studio in Porta Pinciana. Umberto and Gino enrolled at Scuola libera del Nudo in Rome and began to paint.
After his first trip to Russia and Paris, Boccioni moved to Venice but continued to travel, looking for an inspiration that would allow him to paint and sculpt modern dynamism and movement.
The turning point came in Milan in 1907 when he met the poet and writer Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, with who he shared his ideas of Futurism. In 1910 Boccioni, Marinetti, Balla, Carlo Carrà, Severini and Luigi Russolo published the Manifesto of Futurism and two years later the Technical Manifesto of the Futurism Movement underlining the dynamism and overcoming the classical and academic models, which were considered outdated and unable to express the values of modern man.
In 1915 when the first World War broke out in Italy, Boccioni volunteered together with other artists, convinced that the war was necessary because it would renew and “purify” the old society. However, Boccioni died in Chievo, near Verona, on August 17 1916 when he was thrown from his horse during a military exercise. He was only 33 years old.
Pinacoteca di Brera is a complex that consists of the departments of Accademia delle Belle Arti, Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense, Sopraintendeza per il Patrimonio Storico ed Artistico, Istituto Lombardo di Scienze e Lettere, Botanical garden and Astronomical Observatory.
The origins of this collection, where the chronological period of the artworks ranges from 13th to 20th century, with great examples of national and international figurative artistic culture, allow us to understand the motives of this heterogeneity and variety.
Pinacoteca di Brera is situated in the namesake building on the area which, in the past, was occupied by the Order of the Humiliati who came to Milan in 1209, designed by Milanese architect Carlo Maria Richini and later renovated by Giuseppe Piermarini.
In 1773 after the suppression of the Jesuit order, Pinacoteca di Brera became a state property. The first collection was introduced by Maria Theresa Of Austria, who wanted to create a collection of exemplary works intended for the students’ training.
When Milan became the capital of Italian kingdom by Napoleon’s will, the gallery became a real museum with exhibitions of great paintings from all the conquered territories, in addition to the already existing collection. In total there were 269 artworks, and the museum was opened to the public in 1809 with a unique collection of artworks from all the Italian museums, among them the Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael, the Crucifixion by Bramantino and the Disputation of St. Stephen by Carpaccio.
In the 19th century the collection was enriched with many significant works taken from Lombard churches and conventions, due to the abolition of many religious orders. Other works of identical origin, which were removed from the departments of the Italian kingdom, were added to the collection, thanks to the initiative of Giuseppe Bossi and Andrea Appiani. This explains the presence of so many important sacred paintings, which gave the museum its particular appearance, as well as the paintings by Bellotto and the portraits by Lorenzo Lotto.
Corrado Ricci, writer and art historian of undisputed fame, reorganized the exhibition to a strict chronological order by the schools and the polyptych of Valle Romita by Gentile da Fabriano and Men at Arms by Bramante were added to the collection. After the historic reorganization of Ettore Modgliani and architect Piero Portaluppi, following the bombings of 1943, director Feranda Wittgens gives the Pinacoteca a modern and almost aristocratic structure, taking advantage of Franco Albini’s work as well.
The collection was enriched with paintings and sculptures from the 20th century, thanks to the donation of Emilio and Maria Jesi (1976) and Vitali (1984) and with the acquisitions managed by the historic Associazione Amici di Brera which has always kept the museum in dynamic and continuous evolution. Among these were the Self-portrait by Umberto Boccioni, Mother and Son by Carlo Carrà, the Still Life by Giorgio Morandi, the Red Wagon by Fattori and the Afternoon by Silvestro Lega. The director at the time, Franco Russoli, started the expansion process in the halls of the Citterio palace and denounced the problems of that era with the exhibition “Processo per il Museo” in 1974, held in those unused halls. The Pinacoteca was reopened and expanded with Carlo Bertelli.
More recent renewal process began in 1989 with the renovation of technological installations and reorganization of the spaces. The work was organized by Vittorio Gregotti, who created the Napoleonic rooms and the small rooms next to the original gallery.
Among the most important and internationally famous works are Piero della Francesca’s Monterfeltro altarpiece, Andrea Mantegna’s Dead Christ, Gentile and Giovanni Bellini’s Preaching, Barocci’s Martyrdom of St. Vital, the scenes by Antonio Campi, the Christ at the Column by Bramante, the Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio and the Kiss by Hayez.
On 17 December 2011 a new staircase was introduced, designed by Adolfo Natalini. It connected the historical floor of the gallery with the new halls on the first floor. The most recent (2017) renovation was organized in the heart of the Brera, the Napoleonic rooms.