GIACOMETTI À PARIS
February 23, 2023
Visit to the Giacometti Foundation, February 2023
Alberto Giacometti spent 40 years in Paris. Despite being one of the most important sculptors of his time, Giacometti created in a studio of only 23 square meters in Montparnasse, in the Rive Gauche (the southern bank of the river Seine in Paris). His art was created in various media – he was a sculptor, painter, draftsman and graphic artist. His favourite models were the people who would sit for days in his small and chaotic studio while he was portraying them. He would always claim that portraying the human condition is the most difficult thing to achieve, which is what he aspired for; thus, he would rarely be happy with the outcome. Unlike many of his contemporaries who earned a reputation after their death, Giacometti amassed fame and money while still living. Today, just a few meters from Giacometti's former Parisian studio, there is the Fondation Giacometti, an organization that promotes the preservation and protection of the artist's works, publishes publications, organizes exhibitions, and brings his creativity to new generations.
Fondation Giacometti, Paris
Alberto Giacometti grew up immersed in art. He was born in 1901 in Switzerland, in the Alpine valley of Val Bregaglia, just a few kilometres from the Swiss-Italian border. His father, Giovanni, an acclaimed Impressionist painter especially favoured by Swiss collectors, shaped his eldest son's approach to art. The young Giacometti tirelessly followed his father's work, and as a thirteen-year-old, he painted his first oil painting, "Still Life with Apples", and a year later, he created his first sculpture, a bust of his brother Diego in his father's studio. When he turned 21, he moved to Paris with his brother to study at the Académie de la Grande-Chaumiere in the class of the famous sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, an associate of the great Auguste Rodin.
Young Giacometti during the 1930s
In Paris, Giacometti discovered cubism and surrealism; by the end of his twenties, he had established himself as one of the leading surrealist sculptors. He was a member of the movement until 1935, when he decided that he needed to create from nature, with models and reality in front of him (a reality that the Surrealists denied). Giacometti's preoccupation with the human head, on which he focused the most attention, runs throughout his entire opus. He preferred the models he knew best, claiming that this was the only way he could accurately portray someone. During World War II, Alberto escaped with his brother on a bicycle to Switzerland, where he met his wife, Annette Arm, with whom he remained married for the rest of his life. The two returned together to Paris in 1945, where the artist worked until he died in 1966.
Alberto Giacometti in his studio during the 1950s
Alberto Giacometti is best known for his bronze sculptures of tall, slender human figures created between 1945 and 1960. In space, they appear fragile, almost crushed. They embody existentialist ideas, according to art critics, and are indicators of modern man's broken spirit, insignificant, lonely, and traumatized by the experience of war destruction and bloodshed. Examples of his most famous sculptures are Spoon Woman (1927), Disagreeale Object (1931), The Chariot (1950), Woman of Venice II (1956). He rose to international prominence after winning the main prize for sculpture at the Venice Biennale in 1962. His sculptures today have an exceptional value; it should be emphasized that one of his most famous works, The Walking Man I, was sold in 2015 for 141.3 million dollars, making it the most expensive sculpture ever sold at auction.
Painting is a minor part of Giacometti's opus. After 1957, however, his figurative paintings were as valued as his sculptures. The almost monochrome paintings of his late phase, the portraits are devoid of all emotion and expression, and Giacometti continued to focus on the head. Most often, he painted the people who lived around him, his wife, Annette, his brother Diego, and his muse Caroline. Of course, he also took strangers as models. For example, Aika Sapone, in the documentary about the artist's life, reveals that her father, Michele Sapone was a tailor for the Giacometti family, and Alberto, in turn, told him that he would portray his daughter. Ms Sapone states that she returned to Giacometti's studio for days because he was never satisfied with his painting. After completing the portrait, he revealed to his tailor how he would sign it since it was a beautiful work, but he still failed to capture her resemblance. Giacometti painted and created until the last day of his life. After he died due to illness and exhaustion, his wife Annette compiled a comprehensive list of her late husband's works, collected information on the location and production of his works, and immediately fought against numerous forgeries. Annette passed away in 1993. Ten years later, the French government established the Giacometti Foundation.
Giacometti in front of his studio in the 1950s
Alberto Giacometti, The Walking Man, 1960, bronze,
188 × 27.9 × 111.7 cm
Giacometti's distinctive painting technique,
Alberto Giacometti, Rita Circa, 1965, oil on canvas, 70 x 50.2 cm, collection of the Giacometti Foundation, Paris
The Foundation is housed in a listed building on rue Victor Schoelcher, only a kilometre from Albert Giacometti's former studio (on rue Hippolyte-Maindron, privately owned). The building was built in 1914 as a villa for Paul Fallot, a designer who decorated the interior in Art Deco style with painted friezes, carved wooden panels, and mosaic floors, but it was in disrepair when the Foundation took over. According to Catherine Grenier, director of the Giacometti Institute, the name and location were chosen carefully. She asserts that museums dedicated to a single artist offer a more emotional visitor experience. Upon entering the house, the visitor is greeted by a faithful reconstruction of Giacometti's studio, with a makeshift bed, paints, small figures, unfinished works, dirty ashtrays, and the sculpture he was working on the day of his death. Inside the Institute, there are several larger rooms where Giacometti's sculptures and paintings are exhibited, but the Institute also presents an ambitious program of occasional exhibitions, each of which is dedicated to aspects of Giacometti's work and his relationships with artists and writers. The institute also invites visitors to the main room, with its glass ceiling and white furniture, where visitors can sit and read publications about Giacometti and related artists. In short, through this experience, the visitor, first observing the reconstructed studio, then paintings, graphics, private letters, photographs, sculptures, and finally publications, enters the life of an artist whose work represents the peak of sculpture of the second half of the 20th century. With more than 300 sculptures, 90 paintings and thousands of works on paper, the Foundation has the richest Giacometti collection in the world.
Giacometti Foundation (above)
Reconstruction of Giacometti's studio (below)
Alberto Giacometti, the eternally dissatisfied perfectionist, intrigued many with his success, despite his work depicting melancholy, isolation, and loneliness. Indeed, observing the reconstruction of the small chaotic studio in the Giacometti Foundation, we are thoughtfully entering the artist's space and his art. We are about to enter a cramped and crowded space with figures and colours covering all surfaces and crumbling walls painted with several layers of peeling paint. In front of the painting stand, there is a chair with a raincoat draped over it and an empty ashtray on the table. We imagine Giacometti's days while looking at that harsh environment in which the artist created and did not leave until his death. Paris pays tribute to the artist and announces a new major project: the opening of a Giacometti Museum in 2026 in the historic Invalides train station, built for the 1900 World Exhibition and set to undergo extensive renovation.