Carlo Carra
Biography of Italian Cubist/Futurist painter.

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Carlo Carra (1881-1966)


Joins Futurism Movement
Metaphysical Painting

NOTE: For analysis of works by modernist painters like Carlo Carra,
please see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).

For other similar works, see:
Greatest 20th-Century Paintings.

The Drunken Gentleman (1916)
Private Collection.
One of Carlo Carra's finest
Renaissance-inspired still lifes.

See: Best Artists of All Time.


One of Italy's most influential modern artists during the early decades of the 20th century, Carlo Carra was a prominent member of the Futurism movement (1909-14), which combined the radical painting techniques of Cubism with the dynamism of Futurist ideology. During the war he met Giorgio de Chirico with whom he founded a style known as Metaphysical Painting (Pittura Metafisica). Carra's speciality became still life painting executed in the mysterious, offbeat metaphysical style but without de Chirico's sinister atmosphere. During the late 1920s he moved away from avant-garde art, and championed the conservative aesthetics of the Novecento Italiano movement. An active writer on art, Carra was later appointed Professor of Painting at Brera Academy, Milan. Ranked among the key 20th century painters, for his contribution to modern art before and after World War I, Carra is best known for works like "The Funeral of the Anarchist Galli" (1911, Museum of Modern Art, New York), although "Woman on the Balcony" (1912, Private Collection) is equally modernistic.


Born in Quargnento, near Alessandria in Piedmont, Carra left home in 1893 at the age of 12 to work as an interior decorator. In 1895 he went to Milan where he attended night school at the Brera Academy (Accademia di Brera), while continuing to ply his trade. In 1889 he went to Paris, attracted by the possibility of finding work in the construction of the Exposition Universelle (World Fair), and by the painting to be seen in the capital of world art, home of Impressionism and Les Nabis, and so much more. As it happened, it was the Post-Impressionist painters like Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) and Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) who interested him the most. In 1900 he travelled to London where he studied the landscape painting of both JMW Turner and John Constable, while also meeting a number of exiled Italian anarchists, before returning to Milan. In 1903 he abandoned his occupation as a decorator and attended the arts and crafts school in Castello Sforzesco. In 1906 he entered Brera Academy of Fine Arts. Here, under his teacher Cesare Tellone, he was drawn towards Neo-Impressionism, the style of Divisionism - known as Pointillism - invented by Georges Seurat (1859-1891).

Joins Futurism Movement

In 1908 he met the modernist sculptor Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), after which he met the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944). Both helped to convert him to Futurism, a movement that championed patriotism, modern technology, dynamism, and speed. Together with Boccioni and Luigi Russolo (1885-1947), Carra drew up the first Futurist Manifesto, published in 1910. Other Futurists included the Turin artist Giacomo Balla (1871-1958) the Paris-based artist Gino Severini (1883-1966), and avant-garde Russian painters like David Burlyuk (1882-1967) and Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962). It was the start of Carra's most creative phase as a painter. From 1915 he took part in several Futurists' exhibitions and activities. (The first Futurist exhibition in Milan afterwards travelled to the Sackville Gallery in London, the Sturm Gallery in Berlin, founded by Herwarth Walden, and thence to Amsterdam, Zurich and Vienna.) In 1911, 1912 and 1914 he again went to Paris where he met all the leading Cubist painters and moved in Cubist circles. It was during this time that he produced his masterpiece "The Funeral of the Anarchist Galli" (1911, MOMA, New York). His contact with the Paris School (Ecole de Paris) - as well as his preference for austere Cezanne-type forms - led him to make an early break from Futurism. His painting now started to focus more clearly on form and stillness, rather than motion and feeling.

Metaphysical Painting

Carra was already interested in the Early Renaissance painting of artists like Giotto and Paolo Uccello in 1913, and in 1917 during his military service he met Giorgio de Chirico in Ferrara. Together they founded the influential though shortlived Metaphysical School of Painting (La Scuola Metafisica) in which he was to evolve his personal mature style of edgy still lifes and genre painting. He was joined in this endeavour by Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) the Bologna still life painter, who later founded the right-wing Strapaese group, of which Carra himself became a member. In 1919, Carra published "Pittura Metafisica", outlining his view of the movement's aesthetics, but in the same year broke with de Chirico and left the movement altogether. Nonetheless, he continued to produce his characteristically offbeat "Metaphysical" paintings for most of the 1920s, interspersed with more sombre works, like "Morning by the Sea" (1928), in the manner of the Renaissance master Masaccio.

NOTE: Compare de Chirico's Metaphysical painting including works like: The Uncertainty of the Poet (1913, Tate, London), Song of Love (1914, Museum of Modern Art, New York), and The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street (1914, Private Collection).

During the 1920s and 30s he took up the classical ideals of the Novecento Italiano, which he also promoted (1921-38) as art critic of the Milan daily newspaper L'Ambrosiano. In 1941 he was appointed Professor of Painting at the Brera Academy, Milan, a position he held until 1952.

Futurist and "Metaphysical" paintings by Carlo Carra can be seen in some of the best art museums around the world.


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