Alberto Giacometti

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Alberto Giacometti
Portrait of Alberto-Giacometti (etching by Jan Hladík, 2002)
Born(1901-10-10)10 October 1901
Borgonovo, Stampa, Graubünden, Switzerland
Died11 January 1966(1966-01-11) (aged 64)
Chur, Graubünden, Switzerland
EducationThe School of Fine Arts, Geneva
Known for Sculpture, Painting, Drawing
Movement Surrealism, Expressionism, Cubism, Formalism
Spouse(s)Annette Arm
Awards"Grand Prize for Sculpture" at 1962 Venice Biennale

Alberto Giacometti (Italian pronunciation:  [alˈbɛrto dʒakoˈmetti] ; 10 October 1901 – 11 January 1966) was a Swiss sculptor, painter, draftsman and printmaker. Beginning in 1922, he lived and worked mainly in Paris but regularly visited his hometown Borgonovo to see his family and work on his art.

Sculpture Branch of the visual arts that operates in three dimensions

Sculpture is the branch of the visual arts that operates in three dimensions. It is one of the plastic arts. Durable sculptural processes originally used carving and modelling, in stone, metal, ceramics, wood and other materials but, since Modernism, there has been an almost complete freedom of materials and process. A wide variety of materials may be worked by removal such as carving, assembled by welding or modelling, or molded or cast.

Painting Practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface

Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a solid surface. The medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush, but other implements, such as knives, sponges, and airbrushes, can be used. The final work is also called a painting.

Drafter person who prepares technical drawings

A drafter, draughtsman, draftsman, drafting technician makes detailed technical drawings or plans for machinery, buildings, electronics, infrastructure, sections, etc. Drafters use computer software and manual sketches to convert the designs, plans, and layouts of engineers and architects into a set of technical drawings. Drafters operate as the supporting developers and sketch engineering designs and drawings from preliminary design concepts.


Giacometti was one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century. His work was particularly influenced by artistic styles such as Cubism and Surrealism. Philosophical questions about the human condition, as well as existential and phenomenological debates played a significant role in his work. [1] Around 1935 he gave up on his Surrealistic influences in order to pursue a more deepened analysis of figurative compositions. Giacometti wrote texts for periodicals and exhibition catalogues and recorded his thoughts and memories in notebooks and diaries. His self-critical nature led to great doubts about his work and his ability to do justice to his own artistic ideas but acted as a great motivating force. [2]

20th century Century

The 20th (twentieth) century was a century that began on January 1, 1901 and ended on December 31, 2000. It was the tenth and final century of the 2nd millennium. It is distinct from the century known as the 1900s which began on January 1, 1900 and ended on December 31, 1999.

Cubism Early-20th-century avant-garde art movement

Cubism is an early-20th-century avant-garde art movement that revolutionized European painting and sculpture, and inspired related movements in music, literature and architecture. Cubism has been considered the most influential art movement of the 20th century. The term is broadly used in association with a wide variety of art produced in Paris during the 1910s and throughout the 1920s.

Surrealism international cultural movement that began in the early 1920s

Surrealism is a cultural movement that began in the early 1920s, and is best known for its visual artworks and writings. Artists painted unnerving, illogical scenes with photographic precision, created strange creatures from everyday objects, and developed painting techniques that allowed the unconscious to express itself. Its aim was to "resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality".

Between 1938 and 1944 Giacometti's sculptures had a maximum height of seven centimeters (2.75 inches). [3] Their small size reflected the actual distance between the artist's position and his model. In this context he self-critically stated: "But wanting to create from memory what I had seen, to my terror the sculptures became smaller and smaller". [4] After the war, Giacometti created his most famous sculptures: his extremely tall and slender figurines. These sculptures were subject to his individual viewing experience—between an imaginary yet real, a tangible yet inaccessible space. [5]

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

In Giacometti's whole body of work, his painting constitutes only a small part. After 1957, however, his figurative paintings were equally as present as his sculptures. His almost monochromatic paintings of his late work do not refer to any other artistic styles of modernity. [6]

Monochrome shades of one color; describes paintings, drawings, design, or photographs in one color or values of one color, having only one colour

A monochromic image is composed of one color. The term monochrome comes from the Ancient Greek: μονόχρωμος, romanized: monochromos, lit. 'having one color'.

Early life

Alberto Giacometti at the 31deg Venice Biennale in 1962, photographed by Paolo Monti (Fondo Paolo Monti, BEIC) Paolo Monti - Servizio fotografico (Venezia, 1962) - BEIC 6328562.jpg
Alberto Giacometti at the 31° Venice Biennale in 1962, photographed by Paolo Monti (Fondo Paolo Monti, BEIC)

Giacometti was born in Borgonovo, Switzerland, in the canton Graubünden's southerly alpine valley Val Bregaglia near the Italian border, as the eldest of four children of Giovanni Giacometti, a well-known post-Impressionist painter, and Annetta Giacometti-Stampa. He was a descendant of Protestant refugees escaping the inquisition. Coming from an artistic background, he was interested in art from an early age. Alberto attended the Geneva School of Fine Arts. His brothers Diego (1902–1985) and Bruno (1907–2012) would go on to become artists and architects as well. Additionally, Zaccaria Giacometti, later professor of constitutional law and chancellor of the University of Zurich, grew up together with them, having been orphaned at the age of 12 in 1905. [7]

Borgonovo is a small village, part of a former municipality Stampa. It is now part of the municipality of Bregaglia in the Maloja district of the Swiss canton Graubünden, Switzerland.

Switzerland federal republic in Central Europe

Switzerland, officially the Swiss Confederation, is a sovereign state situated in the confluence of western, central, and southern Europe. It is a federal republic composed of 26 cantons, with federal authorities seated in Bern. Switzerland is a landlocked country bordered by Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east. It is geographically divided between the Alps, the Swiss Plateau and the Jura, spanning a total area of 41,285 km2 (15,940 sq mi). While the Alps occupy the greater part of the territory, the Swiss population of approximately 8.5 million is concentrated mostly on the plateau, where the largest cities are located, among them the two global cities and economic centres of Zürich and Geneva.

Val Bregaglia valley

The Val Bregaglia is an alpine valley of Switzerland and Italy at the base of which runs the river Mera. The valley begins at the Maloja Pass which connects it to the Engadin. There the Orlegna river extends westwards and joins the Mera river to Chiavenna shortly after which the Mera joins with the Liro and turns south towards Lake Como. From Chiavenna to Maloja, a distance of 32 km, the valley rises 1482 m. Most of the valley falls within the Swiss district of Maloja in the canton of the Grisons, the lower part within the Italian province of Sondrio. A 10,800 ha tract of the valley has been identified as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.


In 1922, he moved to Paris to study under the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, an associate of Rodin. It was there that Giacometti experimented with Cubism and Surrealism and came to be regarded as one of the leading Surrealist sculptors. Among his associates were Miró, Max Ernst, Picasso, Bror Hjorth, and Balthus.

Antoine Bourdelle French sculptor

Antoine Bourdelle, born Émile Antoine Bordelles, was an influential and prolific French sculptor and teacher. He was a student of Auguste Rodin, a teacher of Giacometti and Henri Matisse, and an important figure in the transition from the Beaux-Arts style to modern sculpture.

Auguste Rodin French sculptor

François Auguste René Rodin, known as Auguste Rodin, was a French sculptor. Although Rodin is generally considered the progenitor of modern sculpture, he did not set out to rebel against the past. He was schooled traditionally, took a craftsman-like approach to his work, and desired academic recognition, although he was never accepted into Paris's foremost school of art.

Joan Miró Spanish painter, sculptor, and ceramicist

Joan Miró i Ferrà was a Spanish painter, sculptor, and ceramicist born in Barcelona. A museum dedicated to his work, the Fundació Joan Miró, was established in his native city of Barcelona in 1975, and another, the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró, was established in his adoptive city of Palma de Mallorca in 1981.

Between 1936 and 1940, Giacometti concentrated his sculpting on the human head, focusing on the sitter's gaze. He preferred models he was close to—his sister and the artist Isabel Rawsthorne (then known as Isabel Delmer). This was followed by a phase in which his statues of Isabel became stretched out; her limbs elongated. [8] Obsessed with creating his sculptures exactly as he envisioned through his unique view of reality, he often carved until they were as thin as nails and reduced to the size of a pack of cigarettes, much to his consternation. A friend of his once said that if Giacometti decided to sculpt you, "he would make your head look like the blade of a knife".

During WWII Giacometti took refuge in Switzerland. There in 1946 he met Annette Arm, a secretary for the Red Cross; they married in 1949. [9]

After his marriage his tiny sculptures became larger, but the larger they grew, the thinner they became. For the remainder of Giacometti's life, Annette was his main female model. [9] His paintings underwent a parallel procedure. The figures appear isolated and severely attenuated, as the result of continuous reworking.

Subjects were frequently revisited: one of his favorite models was his younger brother Diego. [10]

Later years

Cat, 1954, Metropolitan Museum of Art 'Cat' by Giacometti, 1954, Metropolitan Museum of Art.jpg
Cat, 1954, Metropolitan Museum of Art

In 1958 Giacometti was asked to create a monumental sculpture for the Chase Manhattan Bank building in New York, which was beginning construction. Although he had for many years "harbored an ambition to create work for a public square", [11] he "had never set foot in New York, and knew nothing about life in a rapidly evolving metropolis. Nor had he ever laid eyes on an actual skyscraper", according to his biographer James Lord. [12] Giacometti's work on the project resulted in the four figures of standing women—his largest sculptures—entitled Grande femme debout I through IV (1960). The commission was never completed, however, because Giacometti was unsatisfied by the relationship between the sculpture and the site, and abandoned the project.

In 1962, Giacometti was awarded the grand prize for sculpture at the Venice Biennale, and the award brought with it worldwide fame. Even when he had achieved popularity and his work was in demand, he still reworked models, often destroying them or setting them aside to be returned to years later. The prints produced by Giacometti are often overlooked but the catalogue raisonné, Giacometti – The Complete Graphics and 15 Drawings by Herbert Lust (Tudor 1970), comments on their impact and gives details of the number of copies of each print. Some of his most important images were in editions of only 30 and many were described as rare in 1970.

In his later years Giacometti's works were shown in a number of large exhibitions throughout Europe. Riding a wave of international popularity, and despite his declining health, he traveled to the United States in 1965 for an exhibition of his works at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. As his last work he prepared the text for the book Paris sans fin, a sequence of 150 lithographs containing memories of all the places where he had lived.


CHF100 8 front.jpg
Current 100 Swiss franc banknote, front
CHF100 8 back.jpg
Current 100 Swiss franc banknote, back

Giacometti died in 1966 of heart disease (pericarditis) and chronic bronchitis at the Kantonsspital in Chur, Switzerland. His body was returned to his birthplace in Borgonovo, where he was interred close to his parents.

With no children, Annette Giacometti became the sole holder of his property rights. [9] She worked to collect a full listing of authenticated works by her late husband, gathering documentation on the location and manufacture of his works and working to fight the rising number of counterfeited works. When she died in 1993, the Fondation Giacometti was set up by the French state.

In May 2007 the executor of his widow's estate, former French foreign minister Roland Dumas, was convicted of illegally selling Giacometti's works to a top auctioneer, Jacques Tajan, who was also convicted. Both were ordered to pay €850,000 to the Alberto and Annette Giacometti Foundation. [13]

Artistic analysis

Alberto Giacometti
Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson Photograph of Alberto Giacometti by Cartier Bresson.jpg
Alberto Giacometti
Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Regarding Giacometti's sculptural technique and according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: "The rough, eroded, heavily worked surfaces of Three Men Walking (II), 1949, typify his technique. Reduced, as they are, to their very core, these figures evoke lone trees in winter that have lost their foliage. Within this style, Giacometti would rarely deviate from the three themes that preoccupied him—the walking man; the standing, nude woman; and the bust—or all three, combined in various groupings." [14]

In a letter to Pierre Matisse, Giacometti wrote: "Figures were never a compact mass but like a transparent construction". [15] In the letter, Giacometti writes about how he looked back at the realist, classical busts of his youth with nostalgia, and tells the story of the existential crisis which precipitated the style he became known for.

"[I rediscovered] the wish to make compositions with figures. For this I had to make (quickly I thought; in passing), one or two studies from nature, just enough to understand the construction of a head, of a whole figure, and in 1935 I took a model. This study should take, I thought, two weeks and then I could realize my compositions...I worked with the model all day from 1935 to 1940...Nothing was as I imagined. A head, became for me an object completely unknown and without dimensions." [15]

Since Giacometti achieved exquisite realism with facility when he was executing busts in his early adolescence, Giacometti's difficulty in re-approaching the figure as an adult is generally understood as a sign of existential struggle for meaning, rather than as a technical deficit.

Giacometti was a key player in the Surrealist art movement, but his work resists easy categorization. Some describe it as formalist, others argue it is expressionist or otherwise having to do with what Deleuze calls "blocs of sensation" (as in Deleuze's analysis of Francis Bacon). Even after his excommunication from the Surrealist group, while the intention of his sculpting was usually imitation, the end products were an expression of his emotional response to the subject. He attempted to create renditions of his models the way he saw them, and the way he thought they ought to be seen. He once said that he was sculpting not the human figure but "the shadow that is cast".

Scholar William Barrett in Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy (1962), argues that the attenuated forms of Giacometti's figures reflect the view of 20th century modernism and existentialism that modern life is increasingly empty and devoid of meaning. "All the sculptures of today, like those of the past, will end one day in pieces...So it is important to fashion one's work carefully in its smallest recess and charge every particle of matter with life."

A 2011–2012 exhibition at the Pinacothèque de Paris focussed on showing how Giacometti was inspired by Etruscan art. [16]

Artworks by Giacometti at the 31° Venice Biennale in 1962, photographed by Paolo Monti



Giacometti's work has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions including Pera Museum, Istanbul (2015) Pushkin Museum, Moscow (2008); “The Studio of Alberto Giacometti: Collection of the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti”, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2007–2008); Kunsthal Rotterdam (2008); Fondation Beyeler, Basel (2009), Buenos Aires (2012); Kunsthalle Hamburg (2013), and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta (1970).

The National Portrait Gallery, London's first solo exhibition of Giacometti's work, Pure Presence opened to five star reviews on 13 October 2015 (to January 10, 2016, in honour of the fiftieth anniversary of the artist's death). [17] [18] From April 2019, the Prado Museum in Madrid, has been highlighting Giacometti in an exhibition.

Public collections

Giacometti's work is displayed in numerous public collections, including:

Art foundations

The Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, having received a bequest from Alberto Giacometti's widow Annette, holds a collection of circa 5,000 works, frequently displayed around the world through exhibitions and long-term loans. A public interest institution, the Foundation was created in 2003 and aims at promoting, disseminating, preserving and protecting Alberto Giacometti's work.

The Alberto Giacometti-Stiftung established in Zürich in 1965, holds a smaller collection of works acquired from the collection of the Pittsburgh industrialist G. David Thompson.

Notable sales

In November 2000 a Giacometti bronze, Grande Femme Debout I, sold for $14.3 million. [21] Grande Femme Debout II was bought by the Gagosian Gallery for $27.4 million at Christie's auction in New York City on May 6, 2008. [22]

L'Homme qui marche I , a life-sized bronze sculpture of a man, became one of the most expensive works of art and the most expensive sculpture ever sold at auction on February 2, 2010, when it sold for £65 million (US$104.3 million) at Sotheby's, London. [23] [24] Grande tête mince , a large bronze bust, sold for $53.3 million just three months later.

L'Homme au doigt (Pointing Man) sold for $126 million (£81,314,455.32), or $141.3 million with fees, in Christie's May 11, 2015 Looking Forward to the Past sale in New York, a record for a sculpture at auction. The work had been in the same private collection for 45 years. [25]

Other legacy

Giacometti created the monument on the grave of Gerda Taro at Père Lachaise Cemetery. [26]

In 2001 he was included in the Painting the Century: 101 Portrait Masterpieces 1900–2000 exhibition held at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Giacometti and his sculpture L'Homme qui marche I appear on the current 100 Swiss franc banknote. [27]

According to a lecture by Michael Peppiatt at Cambridge University on July 8, 2010, Giacometti, who had a friendship with author/playwright Samuel Beckett, created a tree for the set of a 1961 Paris production of Waiting for Godot .

The 2017 movie Final Portrait retells the story of his friendship with the biographer James Lord. Giacometti is played by Geoffrey Rush.


  1. Gerber, Louis. "Alberto Giacometti". Retrieved 2018-02-01.
  2. Fondation Beyeler. The Collection. Ed. by Vischer, Theodora, Fondation Beyeler, Riehen / Basel. ISBN   9783775743334. OCLC   1010067077.
  3. Angela Schneider: Wie aus weiter Ferne. Konstanten im Werk Giacomettis, in: Angela Schneider: Giacometti. p. 71
  4. Letter to Pierre Matisse, 1947. In: Exhibition of Sculptures, Paintings, Drawings, exh. cat. Pierre Matisse Gallery (New York, 1948), pp. 29.
  5. Reinhold Hohl: Lebenschronik. In: Angela Schneider: Giacometti, p. 26
  6. Lucius Grisebach: Die Malerei, in: Angela Schneider: Giacometti, p. 82
  7. Andreas Kley: Von Stampa nach Zürich. Der Staatsrechtler Zaccaria Giacometti, sein Leben und Werk und seine Bergeller Künstlerfamilie, Zürich 2014, pp. 89 et seq.
  8. New York Times article on The Women of Giacometti exhibition, Pace Wildenstein Gallery 2005
  9. 1 2 3
  10. Tate Collection: Seated Man by Alberto Giacometti Retrieved July 13, 2007.
  11. Christie's, Impressionist And Modern Art Evening Sale, New York, Rockefeller Plaza, 6 May 2008
  12. James Lord, Giacometti: A Biography, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1986, pp. 331–332 ISBN   978-0-374-52525-5
  13. "Conviction Upheld Against mFormer French FM in Giacometti Fraud". May 10, 2007. Retrieved 2008-04-16.
  14. Metropolitan Museum of Art
  15. 1 2 Introduction by Peter Selz, autobiographical statement by Giacometti (1965). Alberto Giacometti (PDF). Garden City, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, in collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago. pp. 14–28.
  16. Giacometti and The Etruscans, La Pinacothèque de Paris
  17. Jones, Jonathan (13 October 2015). "Giacometti: Pure Presence review – the most profound, universal art of the past 75 years". Guardian online. Retrieved 13 October 2015.
  18. Luke, Ben (13 October 2015). "Giacometti: Pure Presence, exhibition review: Profound portrait of the artist's progress". Evening Standard online. Retrieved 13 October 2015.
  19. Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art
  20. "Search – Permanent Collection – NCMA – North Carolina Museum of Art". Retrieved 2017-02-03.
  21. "Art record Picasso painting goes for £39m at auction". The Guardian. London. 2000-11-10. Retrieved 2010-04-23.
  22., Monet fetches record price at New York auction Archived 2008-05-12 at the Wayback Machine
  23. Giacometti sculpture fetches £65m at Sotheby's auction
  24. Alberto Giacometti's Walking Man I Sells for a Record-Breaking $104,327,006 at Sotheby's
  25. Reyburn, Scott (11 May 2015). "Two Artworks Top $100 Million Each at Christie's Sale (Artsbeat blog)". New York Times. Retrieved 12 May 2015.
  26. Robert Whelan, "Robert Capa, the definitive collection", p. 8, Phaidon press 2001, ISBN   978-0-7148-4449-7
  27. Schweizer Nationalbank Archived 2010-01-27 at the Wayback Machine

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