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The relationship between Italian Futurism and the Russian movement.

The relationship between Italian Futurism and the Russian movement of the same name is complex and controversial. It is, for example, debated when exactly Marinetti first visited Russia: some say that he came in late 1909 or early 1910 to Moscow and Saint Petersburg on his general propaganda tour of European capitals with his newly announced Futurist ideology. Other Soviet critics, notably Nikolai Khardzhev, the most distinguished scholar of this period in Russian art and literature, says that Marinetti came only once to Russia, in early 1914, when he was violently attacked by the Russian Futurist artists and poets. It was after this visit, which is the only one to be established beyond doubt, that Marinetti is reported to have said that ‘the Russians are false Futurists, who distort the true meaning of the great religion for the renewal of the world by means of Futurism’.

However, this date of Marinetti’s first visit to Russia is perhaps of formal significance only, for his Futurist Manifesto was translated and published in the Russian press almost immediately after its appearance in Figaro in 1909.

Natalia Goncharova, Dancing Peasant, 1911

The name ‘Futurism’ is, however, almost all that unites the Russian and the Italian movements. This name, like almost all those used to describe artistic movements up to the First World War in Russia, is of obvious Western derivation. But as with Impressionism and Cubism, the interpretation of Futurism in Russia owes little more than a superficial calligraphy to the Western counterparts. ‘Cubo-Futurism’ is a happier term to describe this Russian movement, alike painting and literary, whose dual development is impossible to separate, and this is the term which I have used to describe work of post-1910, post-primitivist, in Russian painting.

Russia, in fact, became a truly international centre during these next years up to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914: on the basis of this international meeting-ground of ideas, the Cubo-Futurist movement emerged. While intrinsically bound up with, and owing much to, contemporary Western European movements - reflected in its name - Cubo-Futurism was a movement peculiar to Russia and immediately preceded the schools of abstract painting which arose in Russia during the years 1911-21, in which the Russians emerged at last as pioneers in the ‘modern movement’.

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