GIACOMO BALLA (1871-1958)
GIACOMO BALLA (1871-1958)
GIACOMO BALLA (1871-1958)
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GIACOMO BALLA (1871-1958)

Fallimento (prima idea)

GIACOMO BALLA (1871-1958)
Fallimento (prima idea)
signed ‘BALLA’ (lower right)
oil on panel
4 5⁄8 x 7 in. (11.7 x 17.6 cm.)
Painted circa 1902
Prof. Angelo Bajocchi, Rome, a gift from the artist, and thence by descent.
Acquired from the above by 1987, and thence by descent to the present owners.
M. Fagiolo dell'Arco, Balla pre-futurista, Rome, 1968, no. 36⁄3, p. 42.
London, National Gallery, Radical Light: Italy’s Divisionist Painters 1891-1910, June - September 2008, no. 43, pp. 104 & 131 (illustrated).
Further details
Elena Gigli has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

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Lot Essay

In September 1900, Giacomo Balla travelled to Paris from Rome to see the Exposition Universelle. While in the French capital, he encountered works by the Post-Impressionists as well as chromophotographs and came away inspired by their use of photographic strategies in their canvases. While the medium itself was not new to Balla – his father had been a photographer – compositions by artists such as Gustave Caillebotte, Edgar Degas, and Georges Seurat revealed to the young artist how he could combine photography with painting. Already an adherent of Divisionism – the movement wherein artists apply individual strokes of unmixed colour – Balla began to incorporate new and dramatic perspectives into his compositions.
With its meticulously placed brushwork and dramatic angle, Fallimento (prima idea) captures this visionary idiom. Painted circa 1902, following Balla’s revelatory trip to Paris, the work presents a zoomed in view of a doorway and pavement. Formatted along a diagonal axis, Fallimento (prima idea), argues Fabio Benzi, has been ‘cropped with the ruthless objectivity of the photographic lens’ (F. Benzi, ‘Giacomo Balla: Modernity and the Avant Garde’, in Giacomo Balla: Designing the Future, exh. cat., Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London, 2017, p. 10). But the radical nature of Fallimento (prima idea) owes as much to its formal composition as to its subject matter; the title of the work translates to bankruptcy. More than a street scene, the painting presents a social critique, commenting on the conditions endured by society’s most vulnerable, here represented by the locked door and abandoned storefront covered in white graffiti. Balla believed in a humanitarian socialism, and in paintings such as Fallimento (prima idea), he sought to represent the ‘squalor of lives dictated by material concerns’ that were ‘totally devoid of spirituality’ (ibid., p. 11). Indeed, as he conceived of his paintings by direct observation – noticing the reflection of light in real time – the ‘focus of Balla’s artistic activity became the issue of how to depict the world and structure the image, rather than simply the transcription of natural reality in a passive manner’ (ibid., p. 9). Like the photographic index, Balla wanted his paintings to be in and of the world itself.
In 1903, contemporaneous to the creation of the present work, Balla met several artists who were enrolled at the Scuola Libera del Nudo, including Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini. With them he shared the neo-impressionist strategies he had developed following his trip to Paris, and together they would go on to form the Futurists, a group devoted to modernisation and technology that advocated for a clear break with the past. For the next several years however, Balla continued to make the poor and overlooked his principal subject. Fallimento (prima idea) has been called the ‘masterpiece’ of this period (M. Fagiolo dell’Arco, ‘Balla in his time – An album of his life and works’, in Balla: The Futurist, exh. cat., Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, 1987, p.12).

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