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Your place to explore new perspectives on British art from 1900 to now. Through interviews, films, image galleries and essays, we uncover the creative lives of the people behind the art on our walls.

Painting by Gino Severini in cubist style with geometric shapes and patterns. Depicts a full length view of a dancer performing the Can-Can, wearing yellow hose and white petticoats.

Artwork in Focus: Danseuse No.5 by Gino Severini

[ Artwork in Focus, Stories )

Former Head of Exhibitions Louise Weller introduces one of the stars of our collection; Gino Severini’s Danseuse No.5 (1915-16).

Dance, light and movement played a pivotal role in the Futurist work Gino Severini (1883–1966) produced between 1910–1916. Whilst the Neo-Impressionism of Seurat and the emotional dynamism of Futurism inspired his early practice, Danseuse No. 5 is an important transitional work. It serves as a farewell to this body of work, which secured his place as a modern painter and marks a shift towards a greater engagement with the rational, geometric aesthetic of Cubism.

As with many young and aspiring painters of the early 20th century, Severini – who was born in Cortona, Italy – moved to Paris in the autumn of 1906, settling in the artistic quarter of Montmartre. The world of cafés, music halls and theatres shaped his social and artistic life offering an environment in which Severini could exchange ideas and theories with other painters and members of the literary avant-garde. It provided him with a wealth of material, most importantly that of the dancing female figure.

In the articulation of the bodies and fabric in movement as well as the atmosphere of light, sound and rhythm, Severini found an expression of dynamism and ‘simultaneity’ which was at the heart of modernity itself.

Painting by Gino Severini in cubist style with geometric shapes and patterns. Depicts a full length view of a dancer performing the Can-Can, wearing yellow hose and white petticoats.

Gino Severini, Danseuse No.5 (Dancer No. 5), 1915-16, OIl on canvas, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Kearley Bequest, through The Art Fund, 1989) © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019.

A complex balance of influences informed Severini’s response to this material. Through his friendship with Giacomo Balla (1871–1958), Severini was introduced to the theoretical discourse and the paintings of the Italian Divisionist artists. Like Pointillism, these painters drew on 19th century scientific ideas into the study of light, using fragmented dabs or ‘points’ of pure colour to create a sense of greater vibrancy and luminosity.

Building on this, Severini took influence from the work of George Seurat (1859–1891) who he greatly admired in terms of both subject matter and technical approach, noting in his autobiography: “I looked to Seurat as my point of departure and my master”.

One of the main causes of our artistic decline lies beyond doubt in the separation of art and science.

Gino Severini

A shared love of dance and composition can be seen in Seurat’s important painting Le Chahut (1889–90). ‘Le Chahut’, which literally means noise or uproar, is also another name for the Can-Can, a dance that emerged in Paris in the mid-19th century and caused a sensation due to the high kicks of the dancers’ legs.

Such investigations subsequently informed Severini’s relationship with the theoretical positions posed by his compatriots when in 1910 he added his name to the Manifesto of Futurist Painters.

Living art draws its life from the surrounding environment. Our forebears drew their artistic inspiration from a religious atmosphere which fed their souls; in the same way we must breathe in the tangible miracles of contemporary life—the iron network of speedy communications which envelops the earth, the transatlantic liners, the dreadnoughts, those marvelous flights which furrow our skies, the profound courage of our submarine navigators and the spasmodic struggle to conquer the unknown.

Manifesto of the Futurist Painters

These Italian Futurists stated that art should take its inspiration from the ‘tangible miracles of contemporary life’. This notion was expanded upon in the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting, written by Umberto Boccioni (1882–1916) and published two months later in April 1910.

A key concept was that of ‘universal dynamism’ and in a world in constant flux, the Futurist’s aim was to render ‘dynamic sensation’ itself in the work of art.

This article was originally published in Pallant House Gallery Magazine No. 45, summer 2018.