Motionless Futurists.

For Fluffy mou

Italian artist Giacomo Balla (1871-1958) was a key proponent of Futurism and a signatory of their 1910 Manifesto. He was most interested in depicting light and motion. Although a native of Turin, Balla moved to Rome in 1895. Here he met his wife, Elisa Marcucci. The couple had two daughters, Luce and Elica.

Now Balla pursued his artfull time earning a living as an illustrator and a portrait painter. But, after meeting Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Balla adopted the Futurist style. He used the style not only in his paintings but in his clothing and furniture designs as well.

Around 1904, Balla and his family moved into an old monastery in the area of Parioli (corner of via Paisiello and via Porpora) and Balla began painting inside his home as if it were a three D painting. The Ballas often had visitors and, during World War I, Balla’s studio became a meeting place for young artists.

In 1926, the Balla family was forced to move to another neighbourhood, that of Delle Vittorie. Here, at via Oslavia 39b, Balla lived and worked until his death in 1958. His daughters continued to live in the house until their own deaths in the early 1990s. And it is this house, inhabited by members of the Balla family for 68 years, that’s recently been opened to the public thanks to a collaboration with the MAXXI  (Rome’s National Museum of Contemporary Art).

Entrance of building where the Balla Family lived, via Oslavia 39b, Rome

Part of the L-shaped hallway with its pastel colored amoeba-like shapes… Futurist painting, said Balla, wants to destroy immobility. So notice the painting hangings above (now copies, the originals removed). They are hanging from the ceiling as opposed to hanging on the wall. This way the painting can move if there’s a breeze and help Balla keep his painting in motion.

the combo living room and laboratory with its lavender floor tiles, handmade furniture and textiles….

Balla and his daughters would frequently move around Rome to paint in en plein air thus the need for various portable easels as pictured above. However, they lost their enthusiasm for outdoor painting during WWII. On March 23, 1944, Elica was painting en plein air when she heard an explosion. It was a bomb planted by members of the Italian resistance movement that the SS Headquarters on via Rasella. Thirty-three German soldiers were killed so the next day, in retaliation, the Germans massacred 335 Italians at the Ardeatine Caves. That day the Ballas lost their enthusiasm for outdoor painting and began staying at home to paint. Obviously, this influenced their subject matter and style.

In the foreground towards the right is an asymmetrical frame with tiny shelves. Called a “smoking cabinet”, the frame holds a textile representation of smoke.

In the living area as well as in other parts of the house are many examples of Luce’s handiwork. Elisa, her mom, was a seamstress just as Balla’s own mother had been a seamstress. Luce and her sister undoubtedly learned how to sew from their mom.

living room area with Balla related video going on

view from the living room window

bathroom dressed in painted tiles

Walking into the kitchen the first thing you notice is a painting by Elica showing her parents and sister sitting at the table. The mother, Elisa, is reading the paper, the sister, Luce, is sewing, and the family patriarch simply sits and reflects.

Notice the glass door with a yellow frame? It has a most incredible story…somehow the adjacent apartment had to, as some form of compensation for damage done, give one of its rooms to Balla so a big hole was made to create an opening.

The kitchen is the room I most enjoyed—the plates, obviously, were designed by Balla.

the kitchen balcony

to the left a sink for doing the laundry and to the right a sink for washing dishes…

counter with marble cutting board and hand painted flowers

painted matchbox handging on the wall

how to close a cabinet Balla style

more handpainted décor…

Balla’s portable table setting

Luce Balla’s bedroom…Luce (1904-1994) was the Balla’s eldest daughter. Her work focused more on textile arts.

Notice the jacket hanging in the wardrobe…a jacket made by Luce based on the designs of her father. On the table are examples of Balla’s Futuristic flower sculptures that his daughter helped him make. They were then sold and helped subsidize the family income.

Luce’s “antimacassar” for the armchair…

Still Lifes

rug designed by Balla but crafted by his daughter Luce

The mural on the ceiling was also meant to hide the electrical wire that crawls across the ceiling.

more of Luce’s Futuristic Patchwork

Elica Balla’s bedroom…Elica (1914-1993) threw herself into the Futurists movement and participated in many exhibitions. After her father’s death, her main desire seemed to be that of perpetuating her father’s fame. In the mid-80s, Elica wrote his biography “Con Balla” when she was in her late 60s (unfortunately, the book is now out of print).

To the right are the stairs that led up to Elica’s “loft” for dreaming. Elica had a passion for clouds and had a mirror fixed above the window meant to reflect another mirror placed on the sill. That way Elica could have various views of the sky.

Futur Balla décor in Elica’s bedroom

desk under loft
“Colonial” desk and chair made from orange crates by Balla
Futuristic Frame
Balla’s shoes

Back in the hallway, built in storage space Balla style

A jacket designed by Balla hanging on the hallway coatrack….Balla was very interested in fashion and wrote the “Dress Manifesto Antineutral” describing Futurists clothing. Fashion designer Laura Biagiotti developed an interest in Futurist creations and began her own collection of Balla’s work (with 130 works now at the Biagiotti Cigna Foundation). So inspired by Balla, Biagiotti based her Summer/Spring collection of 2015 on Balla’s works.

hallway umbrella stand to hide the pipes

The hallway makes a turn and trades its pastels for primary colors. This part of the hallway led to Balla’s Red Studio and to the bedroom he shared with his wife.

The Red Studio

The entire house is highly painted and decorated until you get to the Balla’s bedroom. Here the original furniture has disappeared as have many of the art objects. For a while those who controlled the Balla estate transformed the bedroom into an office space. There is no “feel it on your skin” sensation in this room as with the rest of the house.

This screen is not a Balla original put painted in his style (maybe to fill up the space left by original objects that had been taken away). It reminds me somewhat of Fortunato Depero (who designed the Campari soda bottle still used today).

unfinished painted screen
painted chair

The Ballas had a nice big terrace and used it a lot for socializing and for creating art happenings. The doors leading to the terrace were two: one in Luce’s bedroom and the other in Elica’s.

entrance to the terrace from Luce’s bedroom
entrance to terrace from Elica’s bedroom

During the last part of his life, Balla had his bed placed in front of the terrace door in Elica’s bedroom so that he could look outside and see his terrace in the foreground dominating the rest of the world.

the Balla terrace as seen from the corner of via Oslavia and via Vodice

After Balla’s death in 1958, Luce and Elica continued to live at via Oslavia until their own deaths in 1993/4. There is little information available as to how they lived these final years.

The Balla daughters lived a sheltered life. They were taught at home by private tutors instead of going to school. They were also expected from an early age to help their father actualize his designs as tapestries and other design objects. Bascially, the entire family evolved around Balla and his artistic activities.

Hopefully, someday soon a woman will decide to write about the life of these two daughters who lived in their father’s shadow even 35 years after his death.

Giacomo Balla is buried at Verano Monumental Cemetery in Rome (being a family tomb, I would assume his daughters are here, too). See fotos HERE. Other Futurists at Verano HERE.


Related: Casa Balla, MAXXI +  Casa Balla. Dalla casa all’universo  + Casa Balla. Dalla casa all’universo e ritorno: le foto della mostra e dell’appartamento opera d’arte + Coloratissimo e luminosissimo + Balla prima di Balla + Giacomo Balla e quel balcone su Villa Borghese + “Giacomo Balla e la via dei Parioli” di Giovanna Alatri + Casa Balla: apre a Roma la straordinaria casa futurista di Giacomo Balla + Dal primo autoritratto alle ultime rose. Su Rai3, la mostra di Giacomo Balla a Roma + Giacomo Balla 150 dalla nascita. Quando l’apertura di Casa Balla di via Oslavia? + Le decorazioni del Bal Tic Tac di Giacomo Balla restoration + more Casa Balla + affreschi di Balla al cabaret Bal Tic Tac at via Milano 24 Rome + Laura Biagiotti, omaggio al Futurismo. Sinfonie d’avanguardia in passerella, evocando le geometrie accese di Giacomo Balla & Co.  +

Bibliography:  Elica Balla, Con Balla, Milano, Multhipla Edizioni, 1984.

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4 Responses to Motionless Futurists.

  1. Rosa Vito says:

    What a wonderful post! Surely a personal influence for you?

    • Balla himself had no influence on me nor did the Futurists who, initially, sustained Mussolini. But his house is his true work of art. The guide said “who else would paint their house like this?” and my daughter answered: “My mom.” Yeah….

  2. Angie K Walker says:

    Fabulous. Thank you for sharing this.

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