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Alberto Giacometti

Alberto Giacometti (October 10, 1901 - January 11, 1966) was an important surrealist sculptor and painter.

Alberto Giacometti was born in Borgonovo[?] in Val Bregaglia[?], Switzerland near the Italian border. His father was a painter who encouraged his son’s interest in sculpture.

- Alberto Giacometti -
After finishing high school, he moved to Geneva to attend the School of Fine Arts. In 1922 he moved to Paris to study at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Montparnasse under Rodin’s associate, the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929). It was there that Giacometti experimented with the Cubist method. However, he was more drawn to the Surrealist movement and after his brother Diego Giacometti joined him as his assistant, by 1927 Alberto had begun to display his first surrealist sculptures at the Salon des Tuileries. Before long, he was seen as one of the leading surrealist sculptors of the day.

Living amidst the creative community of Montparnasse, he began to associate with artists Joan Miro, Max Ernst and Pablo Picasso plus writers Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre, Paul Eluard and Andre Breton and wrote and drew for his magazine Le surréalisme au Service de la Révolution. From 1935 to 1940 Giacometti concentrated his sculpting on the human head, focusing on the person’s gaze. This was followed by a new and unique artistic phase in which his statues became stretched out, their limbs elongated.

During World War II, he lived in the safety of Geneva where he met Annette Arm. In 1946 he and Annette returned to Paris where in 1949 they were married. Marriage seems to have been good for him because what followed was perhaps Giacometti’s most productive period. It was his wife who provided him with the opportunity to constantly to be in touch with another human body and particularly a feminine one. Models who had posed for him found it to be a very difficult job but Annette helped him enormously, patiently sitting for him for hours on end until he achieved what he wanted.

He soon had an exhibition of his works on display at the Gallery Maeght in Paris and at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York City for which the catalogue preface was written by his friend Jean-Paul Sartre. By the early 1950’s, the use of bronze had become economically feasible and Giacometti began to cast his works in bronze. A perfectionist, Giacometti was obsessed with creating his sculptures exactly as he visioned through his unique view of reality. To his own consternation, because of his drive for perfection, they all ended up being carved small, many no larger than a pack of cigarettes and almost as thin as nails. A friend once said that if Giacometti decided to carve you, he would make your head look like the blade of a knife. However, after his marriage, he was able to make tiny sculptures larger. But the larger that they grew, the thinner they became. Giacometti said that was the way he wanted to represent the sensation he felt when he looked at a naked woman.

In 1954 he was commissioned to design a medallion depicting Henri Matisse and he created numerous masterful drawings of the great painter in the last months of Matisse's life. 1956 saw a further development in his work when he began to produce paintings of recognizable likenesses. In 1962, he was awarded the grand prize for sculpture at the Venice Biennale[?], and the award brought with it worldwide celebrity. Even when he had achieved popularity and his works were in demand, he still reworked models, often destroying them or setting them aside to be returned to years later. Giacometti was one of only a handful of modern artists who have been equally as talented in all four mediums of sculpture, painting, drawing and printmaking.

In his later years, Giacometti’s creations were displayed at a number of large exhibitions throughout Europe. Riding a wave of international popularity, in 1965, despite being in poor health, he traveled to the United States for an exhibition of his works at the New York Museum of Modern Art[?]. 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.

Alberto Giacometti died of heart disease and chronic bronchitis on January 11, 1966 at the Kantonsspital in Chur, Switzerland. His body was returned to his birthplace in Borgonovo, where he was interred close to his parents.

Today, a sculpture by Giacometi can sell for more than US$14 million.

Selected sculptures:

  • Spoon Woman - (1926)
  • Gazing Head - (1928)
  • Caress (Despite Hands) - (1932)
  • Woman with Her Throat Cut - (1932)
  • The Palace at 4 A.M. - (1932)
  • Nose - (1947)
  • Man Walking - (1947)
  • The Chariot - (1950)
  • Le Chien - (1951)
  • Grande femme IV - (1960)
  • Tall Figure II and Tall Figure III - (1960)

Selected paintings/drawings:

  • Self-Portrait - 1921
  • The Couple - (1926)
  • The Artist's Mother - 1937
  • Apple on the Sideboard - (1937)
  • Stehende Figur - (1947)
  • The Street - (1952)
  • Landscape at Stampa - (1952)
  • Diego in a Plaid Shirt - (1954)
  • Rue D'alesia - (1954)
  • Annette in the Studio - (1954)

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