Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash – Giacomo Balla

What kind of painting is Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash by Giacomo Balla?

  • Futurism, Cubism, and critical rejection
  • An avant garde, dog’s perspective
  • Stasis and motion = comedy

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I apologize to the descendents of Giacomo Balla for my Americanized pronunciation of your artist ancestor’s name.

In Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash, Giacomo Balla’s dachshund somehow seems to have tons of legs. But at the same time, the pup has no particular legs. Thus, the repetition of simple images creates what seems to be a moving portrait. This duplication breaks the subject down, yet its fragmentation builds into a sense of motion. Frenetic brushwork activates this piece. It’s remarkable in simplicity. Yet Balla also illustrates the complexity of capturing active figures.

Three things move in Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash  It’s a marvel because, in fact, there are only exactly three things that exist in this small world. Of course, we have our dog. I’ll call her Franké. She’s got a full, embodied, character. The rest of the painting serves as mere set dressing for Franké’s show.

Balla plays with paint; and our perceptions. Franké is  a fantastic frenzy of tail-wagging in motion. She moves across the canvas thanks to her whirling weiner legs. That’s how we know Giacomo Balla painted as a Futurist. They were hardcore into motion. He’s also quite the Cubist with his broken forms. The painter fragments all the moving parts in Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash. But this has a paradoxical impact. So we see separate segments swirl into a unified movement. We read legs as running rather than twenty separate, blurry, ones.

Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash by Giacomo Balla

Futurism and Cubism Combine

Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash shows cubist and futurist ideals in another way as well. Both of these painting movements bring immediacy to the canvas. Here it works by showing simultaneous events at once. The way Giacomo Balla broke these subjects into pieces helps us understand the whole painting better. This painting is about movement. Perspective and composition also give this a sense of action. We see the scene from another dog’s point of view. Franké feels like a nearby friend and I find myself pulling for her. She revs this canvas with infectious energy.

Her legs spin like wheels whistling past. The owner’s skirts rustle and swirl in the background. So, the human here plays a supporting role. It’s fitting given the viewpoint of Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash. Dogs notice skirt hems flowing by much more than the humans wearing them. This outlook wasn’t the only avant garde aspect of the painting. Critics took this pup’s intensity to heart for years. They projected the ferocious tail wag onto Balla. As if it represented his paintbrush. In fact, criticism for this painting snowballed over the years into a contempt crescendo by the mid 1940s.

Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash caught trash talk as too serious and studied, childish, cliché, and overly romantic. These critiques don’t only contradict each other. They also miss the point of the piece. Art critics from this century love to say the exact opposite about this same painting. For instance, in 2009 Tom Lubbock wrote a glowing review about the piece as groundbreaking and evocative, while it creates new sensations and new phenomena. He also pointed out its comical aspects. The stillness of Balla’s dachshund at the middle sets a perfect example. It’s my favorite part of the painting.

Franké the dog wears windmills for legs, ears, and a tail. But her solid weiner trunk seems still. It’s as if she’s spinning wheels – a car on ice. So, the painting evokes both movement and stasis. Balla captures a comic moment. That’s also where the Dynamism of the title enters the picture. We may laugh or dig deeper. But it’s up to the viewer. Much like with an episode of The Simpsons – meaningful layers are optional.

If we choose to delve, there’s interplay here between yearning to move forward and reality’s limitations. This illustrates an element of Futurism. Humans are capable of only so much progress with industry and innovation. We are often like Franké. Our desire to do better and move forward sometimes exceeds our ability to do so.

Human error often gets in the way of progress. It’s a great source of comedy. We’re tied to humanity’s mistakes just like Franké stays bound to her human. Leashes swing. Skirts swirl. The world stays in motion. Still bonds between us also remain and sometimes limit forward movement. As much as her human helps Franké, she also holds this dog back from forging forth at full speed. That limitation parallels how our humanness often holds us back from progress. It’s the key that unlocks Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash. This simple triad of subjects unfolds into questions about the very nature of being human. That’s what makes this charmer painting a masterpiece.

Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash – FAQs

Why did Giacomo Balla paint Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash?

Étienne-Jules Marey

In 1912 Balla caught the futurist bug alongside Marcel Duchamp, who painted Nude Descending a Staircase that same year. The parallels in these masterpieces are not mere coincidence. Both painters found inspiration in popular photography of the period.

Before film, Étienne-Jules Marey, a scientist, studied animal movement with photographs. He captured phases of movement in pictures. This technique, Chronophotography, didn’t only serve science and presage moving pictures. It also inspired the Futurist painters Duchamp and Balla.

Where can I see Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash in person?

Take a trip to Buffalo, New York for the full Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash experience. Seeing it in person, you’d never imagine all the buzz it’s created over the years. This painting has quite a storied past even with only three owners in its lifetime.

Balla first showed it alongside a picture of the scene to highlight his inspiration. This 1913 Berlin exhibition fell a bit flat. The critics didn’t get it.

So, Balla held onto this masterpiece until he found the perfect buyer in 1938 – Anson Goodyear. This was a brilliant move given that Goodyear became founder and President of MOMA the very next year.

Goodyear granted a shared interest for this painting in his will. His son, George got the painting until his death when it would land, finally at the Albright–Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York.

ENJOYED THIS Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash ANALYSIS?

Check out these other essays on Italian Artists

“Dinamismo di un cane al Guinzaglio, 1912”. Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Caws, Mary Ann (1 December 2000). Manifesto: A Century of Isms. Bison Books

Lubbock, Tom (3 September 2009). “Great Works: Dynamism of A Dog on a Leash (1912) Giacomo Balla”. The Independent.

Berghaus, Günter (21 May 2014). International Yearbook of Futurism Studies 2014. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG.

Poggi, Christine (2009). “Photogenic Abstraction: Giacomo Balla’s Iridescent Interpenetrations”. Inventing Futurism: The Art and Politics of Artificial Optimism. Princeton University Press.

Hope, Henry R. (Winter 1947–48). “Black Magic and Modern Art”. College Art Journal. 7

Morgan, Robert C. (14 March 2014). “Italian Futurism, or the Lessons of Art and Politics”. Hyperallergic.