The Italian Almanac

Th Fourth Estate

Divisionism in London

Divisionism, the 19th-century art movement that gave birth to Futurism, is the focus of a new exhibition in the National Gallery in London. 'Radical Light - Italy's Divisionist Painters' features around 80 paintings, bringing the work of the Divisionists to the UK, where it is still little known.

The movement had a short life, running from 1891 until 1910, when it split into Symbolism and Futurism, but included artists who would later gain international renown, such as Giacomo Balla and Umberto Boccioni. The Divisionists were mainly active in Italy's industrial heart, Milan, and were strongly influenced by the scientific and technological progress of the time. This fascination with technology resulted in their most characteristic technique: the use of pure, unmixed threads of colour, which imbued their work with an intense luminosity.

They were also known for their commitment to Socialist ideals, leading many to focus on the harsher side of life: the poor, labourers, factory workers and field hands. The Orator of the Strike (1890-91) by Emilio Longoni is one such piece, while another is Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo's famous The Fourth Estate (1895), which shows a mass of workers ''marching'' towards the viewer.

However, there are also a number of works on display that seem to share little common ground outside the painting technique, producing vastly different canvases on an array of subject matters. Some show daily life, others quiet landscapes, while a few tackle supernatural or moral themes. Other painters, such as Gaetano Previati focused on symbolism, while Angelo Morbelli's series of elderly subjects, painted between 1902 and 1903, examine a darker side of everyday life.

The launch of Futurism in 1909, with the publication of the movement's manifesto, lured many Divisionists onto a new path, which is explored at the end of the exhibition. The exhibit runs in the National Gallery until September 7, after which it travels to Zurich, Switzerland.