In November 1906, Severini moved to Paris, inspired by Giacomo Balla's discussions of the latest experiments in French avant-garde art. "There he refined his concept of representation and invention and succeeded in reconciling apparently antithetical aspirations and modes. In the work of Seurat and Signac he found suggestions that enabled him to develop an idiom which was simultaneously orderly, gay and elegant...Immersed in memories of limpid Quattrocento painting and in the atmosphere of Paris at the height of the season, to Seurat's palette Severini added black, grey and all the nuances of the primary colours" (P. Pacini, exh. cat. , Futurismo and Futurismi, Palazzo Grassi, Venice, 1986, p. 570).
Severini struck up friendships with his compatriots Carlo Carrà and Luigi Russolo, and along with Balla and Umberto Boccioni, a fellow student from design school in Rome, they joined forces with the poet Filippo Marinetti and became known as the Futurists. In 1910, they published a manifesto of Futurist painting techniques: "It begins by declaring that a growing need for truth can no longer be satisfied by form and colour as they have been understood in the past: all things move and run, change rapidly, and this universal dynamism is what they should strive to represent. Space no longer exists or only as an atmosphere within which bodies move and interpenetrate. Colour too is irridescent, scintillating" (H. Read, A Concise History of Modern Painting, New York, 1959, pp. 109-110).
Two years later, the group organised their first exhibition, which was held at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune and later travelled to London, Amsterdam, The Hague, Brussels, Munich and Berlin. "At the first Futurist exhibition in February 1912, Gino Severini stood out from the other members of the group because of the way he celebrated modern life...his paintings rejoiced in the gay spectacle of Parisian life and were subtly permeated with that sense of the poetic quality of things which is hidden in the memory of feeling of those who live their youth with abandon and optimism" (P. Pacini, op. cit, p. 572).
Following his marriage on 28 August 1913 to Jeanne Fort, the daughter of the poet Paul Fort, the editor of the influential literary periodical Vers et Prose, Severini returned to Italy and remained there until October 1914. During this time, he worked on his text Le Analogie plastiche del dinamismo, in which he explored the formal and chromatic equivalence between very different phenomena, so that, for example, a dancer might 'equal' the sea or a bunch of flowers. In December 1913, Severini wrote to Giuseppe Spovieri of a 'new period of abstraction', which was linked with his working-out in practice of his theory of 'plastic anologies'.
The treatment of the 'woman in a window' in the present work is clearly linked to the slightly earlier 'plastic analogy' paintings, including Mer = Danseuse (D.185) of 1913-14, now in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. It is also exemplary of how, influenced by the atmosphere of Paris, Severini combined a new approach to colour with the geometric rhythms of Futurism to convey the pulsating sensations of the city. The woman depicted is probably one of the dancers from the café concerts, for whom Severini developed a passion. The theme of the dancer had already led to highly abstracted works in the summer of 1913, including Formes d'une Danseuse dans la Lumière (F.172), which are echoed in the degree of abstraction in the present work.
As is clear in Donna alla finestra, Severini translated the movements of the dancers into prismatic forms, animating Cubist faceting through the use of staccato curves and a brilliantly coloured stippling technique. As Christopher Green explains, Severini's main concern appears to have been to convey the breakdown of the distinctions between figure and environment, near and far, and to further explore his 'plastic anologies', this time finding 'real anaologies' (as he described them) between the feminine and nature (C. Green, ibid, p. 457). The title Severini inscribed on the reverse of the canvas, Simultaneité de groupes centrifuges et centripètes, further suggests two opposing forces rotating outwards and inwards at the same time. This vividly conveys the rapid movements of the subject, represented by light and dark contrasts which together suggest a luminous field of energy.
Fonti has pointed out the specific similarity in Severini's style of painting and pictorial intentions between Donna alla finestra, and Mer = Danseuse (F.185). The energetic brushstrokes which enliven the surface of both works are applied with great confidence, at times forcefully overlapped, and are complimented by areas of the prepared canvas which have deliberately been left exposed (Fonti, op. cit., p. 180). It is interesting to note the two works were hung in the same exhibition, held at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1926.
Fonti sums up the effect of the composition of Donna alla finestra: "tutto é impostata su di un forte ritmo rotario e centrifugo; qui linee oblique, andamenti cuneiformi e zig-zaganti ricordano il metodo costruttivo delle 'analogie plastiche'" (ibid). She continues in her discussion of Mer = Danseuse "la nuova realtà rappresentata si qualifica ora come emozione 'plastica' nata non solo dalla percezione di un soggetto in movimento nel suo ambiente (e dalla memoria in esso) ma dalle libere associazioni stabilite dall'artista fra realtà anche molto diverse fra loro...Il quadro si impone per l'alta qualità pittorica, per il senso di prorompente energia sprigionata dal cilindro quasi metallico che sigla la testa della ballerina, per la forza plastica conferita ai volumi originali da un moto di rotazione e di rivoluzione intorno a un centro" (ibid, p. 170).
Given that Severini refers to the Guggenheim painting as 'just finished' and dispatched to Rome, in a letter to Giovanni Papini of 10 January 1914 (see Fonti, ibid, p. 170), and its close relationship with Donna alla Finestra, the general academic consensus is that the present work was also painted in January 1914 (see Fonti, ibid, p. 170, C. Green, op. cit, p. 457, and A. Zander Rudenstine, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, New York, 1985).
A preparatory drawing, and two pastel studies exist for Donna alla finestra (see figs 2 and 3), one of which is in the Fundación Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.