Occupation: Sculptor; Painter
Movement: Cubism; Expressionism; Surrealism; Formalism
Education: Geneva School of Fine Arts
Alberto Giacometti was a Swiss sculptor, painter, and draughtsman. As the son of the post-Impressionist painter Giovanni Giacometti and godson of Cuno Amiet, Alberto grew up around artists and began painting and sculpting while still fairly young.
“Star Standard Lamp,” 1936
“Nu Debout,” 1941
“L’homme au Doigt,” 1947
“Le Chien,” 1954
“Nu de Face,” 1955
“L’atelier aux Bouteilles,” 1957
“Buste d’Homme,” 1959
“Tete d’Homme,” 1964
Alberto was born in Borgonovo, a village close to the Swiss-Italian border and raised in the Val Bregaglia Alpine Valley. He was educated in Geneva and Italy and later in Paris. His brothers Diego and Bruno also grew up to become artists. Raised in an artistic atmosphere, Alberto created his first bust in 1914–15 and oil painting in 1915.
Giacometti moved to Paris in 1922 to study under the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere. He was also influenced by the art of Jacques Lipchitz and Fernand Leger, as can be seen from his early nudes and Cubist sculptures. By the mid-1920s, Giacometti had developed an interest in African art, which had become popular in Europe through the work of artists like Pablo Picasso and Andre Derain. The young artist first made a mark with the works “Spoon Woman” and “The Couple,” shown in Paris at the Salon de Tuileries in 1927. It was in the same year that he had his first solo exhibition at the Galerie Aktuaryus in Zurich. Non-western art had a deep influence on him and following these early successes, Giacometti began experimenting with creating flat heads and female figures, bringing him to the attention of the Pierre Loeb Gallery, known for promoting the Surrealists.
In 1931, Giacometti became an active member of Andre Bretton’s group and the Surrealist movement. Surrealist techniques, including dreamlike visions and magical treatment of objects and figures remained an important part of his work even after he was expelled from the group in 1935, in spite of being one of its more prominent and gifted artists. “The Walking Woman,” a sculpture made in 1932 was included in the Surrealist exhibition of 1936 in London.
Areas of Interest
Of Giacometti’s impressive body of work, the two major areas of interest that stand out are his investigations into the nature of the human head and his substantial work on utilitarian objects from ancient and primitive societies. In the second category, Giacometti contributed to the art of sculpture the idea of “mobile and mute objects.” He also began making utilitarian objects like wall light, lamps, and vases, which were sold by the interior designer Jean-Michel Frank. Giacometti and Frank collaborated over many years on projects in Europe and even as far as Buenos Aires.
However, it was his concern with the head that lay at the center of his artistic search. While for most this was a common subject, Giacometti felt compelled to study the head and particularly eyes as the core of human life. He began working on the subject regularly from the early 1930s and among the models for his studies were his brother Diego, friend Isabel Delmer, and Rita Gueyfier, a professional model.
Giacometti’s encounters with the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and his Japanese translator, the philosopher Isaku Yanaihara were significant and led the former to publish two significant essays on the artist’s work. He preferred to use the people around him as models, particularly his wife Annette and brother Diego. He eschewed classical perspective and depicted his models as he saw them — at times fragmented and deformed but always changing.
Having made his first prints in the company of his father, Giacometti continued to experiment with the medium using wood, engraving, lithography, aquatint, and etching. He illustrated a number of books and was friends with many writers and poets. He began making his signature figures, tall and thin, from 1947 onwards. Giacometti won numerous awards, including at the Pittsburgh International (1961), Venice Biennale (1962), as well as the Guggenheim International Award for Painting (1964).
Giacometti died on January 11, 1966 in Chur. He was suffering from heart disease and chronic bronchitis. Around 5,000 of his works are held at the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti based in Paris.
1901 - Born in Switzerland
1919 - Studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Geneva
1922 - Settles in Paris
1929 - Signs a contract with Pierre Loeb
1935 - Commences a decade-long period of not exhibiting his work
1962 - Receives the Grand Prix de Sculpture at the Venice Biennale
1966 - Passes away in Chur
1966 - Venice Biennale
1978 - Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul-de-Vence
1985 - Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
1994 - Acquavella Galleries, New York
1996 - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
2002 - Kunsthaus Zurich
2002 - Museum of Modern Art, New York
2004 - Musee Jenisch, Vevey
2010 - Mitchell-Innes & Nash Gallery, New York
Museums / collections
Tate Britain, London
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC
Musee Granet, Aix-en-Provence
Musee National d’Art Moderne, Paris
Musee Cantini, Marseille
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Los Angeles County Museum
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
“Alberto Giacometti” by Catherine Grenier
“Alberto Giacometti” by Monique Meyes
“Giacometti: Pure Presence” by Paul Moorhouse
“Alberto Giacometti” by Bernard Lamarche-Vadel
“A Giacometti Portrait” by James Lord