'Space and Time, Sublimated': Science in Balla, Boccioni, Cendrars and Survage

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The acclaim of scientific advances is a familiar trope of the twentieth-century European avant-gardes. The Italian Futurists' concept of 'lines of force' derives from electromagnetism and field theory; French artist Robert Delaunay's path to abstraction was paved by the optical research of Young, Chevreul, Helmholtz and Rood; Blaise Cendrars's poems and essays borrow copiously from scientific theories. All were indebted to new discoveries in physics, astronomy and cosmology. This essay explores the prevalence of science in their work through some revealing case studies. As the essay argues, Balla's and Boccioni's understanding of 'lines of force' was highly intuitive, but nevertheless demonstrated the intent to grasp the underlying scientific principles. Blaise Cendrars's literary realisation of Léopold Survage's unfinished abstract film project Coloured Rhythms (1912-14) transposes Survage's painted forms into the context of space travel and extraordinary stellar phenomena. Inspired by experimental science, these writers and artists explored hitherto uncharted realms in highly creative yet at times ambivalent ways.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationArt and Science in Word and Image: Exploration and Discovery
EditorsJan Baetens, Christopher Murray, Sophie Stokes-Aymes, Keith Williams
Place of PublicationLeiden
PublisherBrill Rodopi
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)9789004361119
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jan 2019

Publication series

NameWord and Image Interactions


  • Giacomo Balla
  • Umberto Boccioni
  • Blaise Cendrars
  • Léopold Survage
  • European avant-garde
  • 20th-century painting
  • 20th-century sculpture
  • 20th-century French literature
  • Science
  • science fiction

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