On the Move - Visualising Action at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art

By Ed Sexton | 19 January 2010
a painting of a horse race

(Above) A Race on the Round Course at Newmarket, John Wooton. Courtesy Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Exhibition: On the Move - Visualising Action, Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London, until April 18 2010

This comprehensive study of movement from world-renowned theatre director and writer Jonathan Miller looks at the science and beauty involved in capturing the illusionary subject of movement, using the Collection's unrivalled collection of Futurist art to show how 19th century concepts paved the way for the way the genre's artists represented movement.

a series of photographs showing a woman dancing

Females (semi-Nude) and Children Dancing (Fancy), Eadweard Muybridge. Courtesy Kingstion Museum and Heritage Service

As a theatre director, movement is a subject close to the heart of Miller. "I have always been interested in movement," he says. "I'm specifically interested in how purposive movement takes place and how we actually get going.

"I am constantly getting people to move properly, not to do theatrical movements. I'm getting them to stay natural and focus on the small, almost subconscious movements."

The exhibition takes a chronological look at how art and science have intersected in the artistic quest to accurately depict human and animal movement.

a sculpture showing a bird in flight

Analysis of the Flight of a Seagull, Etienne-Jules Marey

Starting with John Wooton's A Race on the Round Course at Newmarket, visitors are encouraged to consider how past experience influences our visions of inertia, and how intelligence can skew the movement we see before us .

One of the key bodies of work in the exhibition comes from Eadweard Muybridge, whose 19th century photographic experiments revealed previously unseen aspects of reality.

Muybridge's experiments played a key role in the development of photography and the representation of movement. He also had a particularly colourful personal life - he killed his wife's lover, but was later acquitted of the offence.

Between his crimes of passion he proved the theory of unsupported transit, by showing that a horse lifts all four hooves off the ground when galloping.

Muybridge's studies give a frame-by-frame account of humans and animals on the move - you see the limbs gradually change position, and the crispness of these old photos shows the definition of the muscles flexing.

Where Muybridge takes you through the movements frame by frame, Etienne-Jules Marey merges the movements in one frame, so the images appear as a beautiful collision of identical people and animals.

a painting showing a violinists

Giacomo Balla, The Hand of the Violinist. Estorick Collection London

The Flight of a Seagull looks like a giant flying creature with one long continuous spine, and Marey was so pleased with the study he had it cast as a sculpture. The resulting bronze is a mass of furrowed and overlapping wings, offering a fascinatingly tangible representation of movement.

Marey came up with a rather ingenious solution to the issue of the overlap and blur of limbs by dressing his subjects entirely in black with strips of reflective material, corresponding to their jointed limbs to create a cleaner final image.

a photograph of a spinning toy

A replica of a Praxinoscope you can play with at the Collection

Marey's influence can be seen in the later, multiple-layered stroboscopic images of Gjon Mili. His image of ballerina Nora Kaye performing a pas de bourree is a particularly hypnotic piece in which the ballerina's limbs create a crystal-like pattern.

The Futurist aim to portray the dynamism, energy and movement of modern life can be seen in the sweeping, whooshing movements of the brush strokes of Giacomo Balla's the Violinist's Hand and the Futurism-inspired Cyril Power and Sybil Andrews.

The Estorick also encourages you to experiment with some challengingly named but charmingly simple-to-use optical toys including phenakistoscope, praxinoscope and zoetrope, transforming the picture from something static to something on the move.

Admission £5/£3.50 (free for school pupils and students). Pre-bookable tours for groups available, £3.50 per person extra charge. Visit the Collection online or call 020 7704 9522.

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