Added on February 6, 2010
On February 3, 2010 Sotheby's
London sold a 1960-cast in bronze of Alberto Giacometti's L'homme qui
marche for £65 million, making it the world' most expensive work of art
Giacometti - The catalogue and
the exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler. Order the English catalogue (Hatje Cantz,
2009, 224 p., 194 photos) from
Amazon.co.uk. Die deutsche Ausgabe bestellen bei
Article added on August 2nd, 2009
The city of Basel currently holds
two outstanding exhibitions: one about Van Gogh's landscapes, the other about Alberto Giacometti. Both are highly recommendable. Here some
information about the Giacometti exhibition and catalogue.
exhibitions in Chur and Mannheim in 2000 focused not only on Alberto
Giacometti, but on his family too, including his father, the painter
Giovanni Giacometti, his distant relative, the painter Augusto Giacometti as
well as his brother Diego Giacometti, who made himself a name with his
furniture, design objects and sculptures.
However, the catalogue accompanying the exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler
in Riehen near Basel focuses on reproductions of the works by Alberto
Giacometti. The book also offers on nine pages thoughts about Giacometti and
the exhibition by the curator Ulf Küster , a seven-page essay by Véronique
Wiesinger about the relation between father and son, Giovanni and Alberto
Giacometti and a seven-page chronology compiled by Michiko Kono. If you
would like to learn more about the artist and his life, read the biography
by James Lord: Alberto Giacometti (order the English edition from
At the fondation Beyeler, Augusto and Diego Giacometti are only offered a
small space at the end of the book; the architect Bruno Giacometti was not
The exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler from May 31 to October 11, 2009
displays 150 works of Alberto Giacometti as well as a few works by his
father, his brother Diego and his uncle Augusto
Alberto Giacometti's background - a biography
Alberto Giacometti was born in Stampa on October 10, 1901 the first of
Annetta and Giovanni's four children. Stampa is a village situated in a
mountain region called Bergell, located between the Alpine passes of Maloja
and Castasegna. Geographically turned towards Italy, it oriented itself
towards the north because of the Protestantism of its inhabitants.
Originally from a modest family from central Italy, the Giacomettis were
already rich when Alberto was born. His grandfather had married into a
wealthy Bergell family. His father followed in the grandfather's footsteps
and married the daughter of the richest family in the valley.
The Giacomettis were a dynamic family. Alberto's grandfather was a
confectioner who emigrated first to Warsaw (Poland) and then to Bergamo
(Italy), where he successfully run a coffee-house. He returned to Stampa as
a rich man.
Alberto's father, Giovanni Giacometti, was already a successful
neo-Impressionist painter when he was born. In 1908, he exhibited alongside
Vincent van Gogh, Cuno Amiet and Hans Emmenegger at Zurich's Künstlerhaus.
Incidentally, Alberto's godfather was Cuno Amiet, his brother Diego's
godfather was the eminent Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler.
Giovanni Giacometti encouraged his son's artistic ambitions. Alberto
finished his first all drawings in 1913 and his first plasticine sculpture
the following year. In 1915, he enrolled in the Evangelic Academy in Schiers.
His earliest surviving oil painting, dated 1915, shows that his style was
entirely academic as well as his admiration for
In 1919, Alberto left the school in Schiers and moved to Geneva where he
first studied at the Ecole des beaux-arts and then at the Ecole des arts
After travels to the Venice Biennale and Padua with his father and later
alone to Rome and Florence in 1920 and 1921, Alberto, at the suggestion of
his father, moved to Paris
to study life drawing and sculpture with Antoine Bourdelle at the Académie
de la Grande Chaumière. Giacometti later wrote about the limits of the
“I realized that my vision changed daily. Either I saw a volume or I saw the
figure as a blob, or I saw a detail or I saw the whole. given that the
models only posed for a very limited period, they left even before I had
begun to capture anything at all.”
The young Giacometti suffered from homesickness. He spent a lot of time in
1922 in Stampa and only returned to Paris in autumn to study seriously,
encouraged by his father who was wise enough to realize that his son had to
remain in the capital of the arts of his time to become a great artist,
something Giovanni Giacometti, despite his success, thought not to have
achieved. In that period, influenced by Egyptian art, Alberto made numerous
plaster sculptures of which only few have survived.
In 1925, Alberto exhibited his works of art for the first time at the Salon
des Tuileries. He realized that it was impossible for him to create painting
and sculptures exactly the way he saw them and that he had “to abandon the
real.” For ten years, he created from memory “on the fringes of truth.”
In 1926, Alberto moved into the studio at no. 46 rue Hippolyte-Maindron in
Paris, where he would work the rest of his life. The following year, his
interest in Cubism and non-European indigenous art was reflected in his
sculpture Femme cuillère. In 1928-29, he had regular exhibitions in
Paris and became acquainted with André Breton and the Surrealists, André
as well as the writers
Jacques Prévert and Georges Bataille.
In the catalogue, Michiko Kono also describes what Alberto's family members
did. Let's just mention that Diego and Alberto started to collaborate more
closely together in 1929, with Diego assisting his brother. Diego put his
ambitions as a painter on hold to concentrate instead on making armatures
and learning the techniques of casting and patination. In tune with
Surrealism, Alberto appreciated the unintentional and the imperfect offered
by the self-taught Diego, while giving him at the same time precise
instructions. Diego later worked for interior designers, including
Jean-Michel Frank, for whom his younger sister Ottilia weaved textile items
Alberto in the meantime followed his interests in Surrealism and was
inspired by dreams, the workings of chance, political and sexual objects, as
Michiko Kono points out and the works published in the catalogue document.
In 1932 followed Alberto's first solo exhibition at the Galerie Pierre Colle
in Paris, with
attending the vernissage. The same year, Giacometti participated in the
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After his father's death in 1933, Alberto spent most of his time in
Switzerland. He returned to Paris in December 1934 and, the following year,
broke with the Surrealists. He turned to academic subjects including
portraits, nudes, still lives, landscapes and interiors.
Alberto later said that each morning from 1935 to 1940, Diego sat for him as
a model. Alberto could only see details but not his brother's head as a
whole. Therefore, he made him go further and further away from him. The
result were smaller and smaller sculptures. The more Alberto looked as his
models, the less clearly he could see them. He became terrified of the
disappearance of things.
In 1936, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City was the first art
institution to buy one of Alberto's works of art (Le palais à 4 heures du
matin, a Surrealist work made in 1932, oil and graphite on card,
included in the catalogue and part of the Fondation Alberto et Annette
Giacometti in Paris).
From 1942 to 1945, Alberto could not return to Nazi occupied Paris and
stayed in neutral Switzerland. Diego remained alone in Paris and took care
of Alberto's atelier and works. Nothing was destructed or confiscated.
In October 1943, Alberto met his future wife Annette Arm in Geneva. She
followed him to Paris in 1946; they married in 1949.
In 1947, in preparation of his exhibition at the gallery of
in New York, Alberto Giacometti entered a highly productive phase. Annette was
his principal female model. He experiments with fragmentation. Jean-Paul
Sartre, whom Alberto had met together with Simone Beauvoir in 1941, provides
the introduction The search for
the absolute to the catalogue of his 1948 exhibition at the Pierre Matisse
Gallery. It was Alberto's first solo exhibition since 1934.
According to biographer James Lord, the encounter between Giacometti and
Sartre in 1941 and their regular subsequent meetings were fruitful for both
artists. Sartre considered Giacometti's characteristic post-war sculptures -
first exhibited in New York in 1948 - an expression of his Existentialism.
In New York, Giacometti not only rose to fame, he also met the influential
art critic David Sylvester and his later biographer James Lord. The latter
later stressed the importance of the Phenomenology, which Alberto had
studied in Geneva, for the new fragile sculptures.
As a crucial experience (Schlüsselerlebnis) for his new art, Alberto
described a visit to a Paris cinema after the war, when he discerned just
undefined black spots instead of a person. When he entered the Boulevard
Montparnasse afterwards, his perception of the world, of the depth of space,
things, colors and silence had changed. He began to see human heads in void,
an emptiness, in the space surrounding them. The heads became immobile. The
living seemed dead to him.
In 1949, London's Tate Gallery purchased his 1947-sculpture L'homme qui
pointe (also documented in the catalogue of the Beyeler exhibition).
Alberto's commercial success came with his second New York exhibition in
November 1950, where all his large sculptures made in recent years were
shown and sold. In addition, paintings and drawings were exhibited and sold
Alberto continued his modest lifestyle, whereas his wife Annette wanted to
enjoy the fruits of his labor and bought a flat. This was the beginning of
their slowly growing discord. He remained an artistic searcher who never
found what he was looking for.
In 1951 followed Alberto's first solo exhibition at the Galerie Maeght in
Paris. Francis Ponge devoted an essay to him in the Cahiers de l'art
, illustrated with photographs by the Swiss Ernst Scheidegger. Giacometti's
rugged facial features became a favorite motif of many leading
photographers, including Robert Doisneau, Arnold Newman, Inge Morath,
and Irving Penn.
The subsequent exhibitions are too many to be mentioned here. In 1956, a
Japanese friend started to sit for Alberto all day. In the evenings, he
“The better it went, the more he disappeared. on the day he left”, Alberto told
“If I do another line, the picture will disappear altogether.”
In 1958, Alberto met the 22-year-old Caroline, who would pose for him from
1960 to 1965. From February 1959 to spring 1960, he devoted an entire year
to a monumental sculpture outside the Chase Manhattan Bank in
New York City. Alberto has casts
made of the sculptures for the project. They do not fulfill his expectations
and he abandons the project altogether. He does however produce four large
female figures, a monumental head and two walking men, which are released as
In 1963, Alberto underwent a stomach cancer operation in Paris. He continues
to work, exhibit, receive awards and accolades. While visiting the Chase
Manhattan Bank in New York in 1965, he reportedly said that he would like to
take up the monumental project again.
On January 11, 1966 suffering from a chronic bronchitis, Alberto Giacometti
died from a heart attack at the Cantonal Hospital in Chur, Switzerland. He
was buried at Bogonovo Cemetery where his parents lie too. In 1972, his
surviving wife Annette left the rue Hippolyte-Maindron studio at the owner's
request. The building no longer exists. Annette died in 1993 and was buried
at the Père-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Her plan to entrust a foundation
with her husband's estate, archives and the material she had collected for
the catalogue raisonné came to fruition with the establishment of the
Foundation Alberto and Annette Giacometti in 2003.
The catalogue with large scale reproductions: Giacometti, Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2009, 224 pages, 194 photos. Order the English catalogue from
Amazon.co.uk. Die deutsche Ausgabe bestellen bei
Giacometti, Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2009, 224 pages, 194 photos. Order the English catalogue from
Amazon.co.uk. Die deutsche Ausgabe bestellen bei