Sea = Dancer

Sea = DancerTitle: Mare = Ballerina (Sea = Dancer)
Artist: Gino Severini
Date: January 1914.
Medium: Oil on canvas (with painted frame)
Dimensions: 105.3 x 85.9 cm
Location: Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice


The several words immediately this piece of modern art immediately evokes in my mind are “dynamic,” “heightened,” and “intricate.” I feel as though these descriptions summarize my initial reaction to Severini’s Futurist creation, a painting which explodes with exotic color and fascinating relationships of complex motion in its depiction of the correlation between the ocean and a female dancer. In the Sea = Dancer, the abstract and changeable nature of the sea is personified vividly through the essence of the swirling dancer who curls in fluid, dramatic movement.

Futurist art work is a modern movement that consists of the abstract representation of dynamic reality in a technological age. In the Futurist Manifesto, published in 1910, the group of avant-garde artists who first promoted this aesthetic defiantly maintained that “all subjects previously used must be swept aside in order to express our whirling life of steel, of pride, of fever and of speed” and that “universal dynamism must be rendered in painting as a dynamic sensation” (Wilkins, Schultz, and Linduff, 517). The majority of Futurist artists were Italians who advocated freeing Italy from not only the weight of its historical artistic ideals, but also from political authority. The philosophies of modernism were complexly intertwined with the artistic productions of this era, as evidenced by the Futurist ideals.

Severini’s Sea = Dancer vibrantly advances the Futurist aesthetic in a fluid and energetic composition. The almost undulating motion of the painting is suggestive of both the movement of the ocean and of a colorful dancer. Vibrant cadences of the swirling motion of a dance and a dancer’s costume are merged with those commonly associated with the movement of the sea (Flint). Both are conjoined at the fullest point of their swell—we appreciate both the highest peaks of the ocean’s motion and the climactic moments of a vivid dance simultaneously. The title also supports these primary impressions of the painting, as Severini equates the two entities both visually and verbally.

According to Severini, any human interpretations of reality are optically determined and therefore fluid. As a result, the human figure is only a part—albeit with an essential role—within this metamorphic reality (Flint). The viewer is privileged with a complex role in Sea = Dancer, both as an observer and a participant in the vibrant reality of the image. The broad strokes and the jewel-toned colors of the painting convey an essential sense of abstract form without dictating limits on space or volume. Broad twisting planes stippled with bright staccato dabs of vivid paint cause all surfaces to vibrate three-dimensionally as if with light, evoking an Impressionistic aesthetic as well as representing Futurist ideals (Flint). The image also spills over onto the wooden frame, heightening the dramatic motion of the fluidly interwoven dancer and sea relationship. Here water is not the platform of the artistic narrative, but instead functions as its vibrant climax. Both complement each other in their motion even as each rivals the other in its respective brilliance of color and drama.

Flint, Lucy. “Gino Severini.” Guggenheim Collection Online. Web. 9 Apr 2012. <

Sea=Dancer. Photograph. Terminartors. Web. 7 Apr 2012.  <;.

Wilkins, David G., Bernard Schultz, and Katheryn M. Linduff. Art Past Art Present. 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009. Print.


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