Alberto Giacometti

"You never copy the glass on the table; you copy the residue of a vision...Each time I look at the glass it has an air of re-making really always is between being and not being." – Giacometti (1964)

Alberto Giacometti was one of the outstanding artists of the 20th century. Shifting between sculpture, painting and drawing his career is marked by three key periods, the cubist, surrealist, and a later more mature period in which he explored rendering distance, and human presence.

As a young child, Giacometti displayed a keen talent for art. Encouraged by his parents, mother Annette, with whom he was very close, and father Giovanni, a post-impressionist painter, Giacometti went to Geneva in the fall of 1919 to begin his formal art studies in painting and sculpture. The following year Giacometti travelled to Italy and became enamored with the works of Jacopo Tintoretto, and Giotto. He was also fascinated with Egyptian art he viewed in an archeological museum in Italy; the impact of viewing the rigid frontal figures would later play a role in his practice.

From 1922 to 1925 Giacometti studied at the Académie de la Grand Chaumière in Paris where he was taught by Émile-Antoine Bourdelle. His brother Diego helped him with the technical aspects of his work; carving stone, making plaster and bronze casts. Diego would also serve as the artist's principal model and companion throughout his life.

In the mid to late 1920's Giacometti, who had previously been working in a cubist style began to experiment with the surrealist aesthetic. His surrealist works exhibited in 1929 caused an immediate sensation and provide him with entrance into French avant-garde circles where he become acquainted with Jean Arp, Joan Miro, and Max Ernst. In 1935 he split from the surrealist and started to work from nature –searching to depict reality in his sculptures.

His narrow elongated figures mark the beginnings of his mature period. In Portrait of Diego Giacometti has elongated the head of the sitter, depicted it as two wafer thin profiles. For the remainder of his career he would be focused on representing the intangible notion of presence through the mediums of sculpture and painting. Acknowledged as a leader in the arts during his life time he was awarded the Grand Prix National des Arts by the French government, an honorary Doctorate by the University of Bern and the 1961 the state prize for sculpture at the Venice Biennial. In 1965 the Alberto Giacometti foundation was created, preserving in perpetuity the legacy of this great modern artist.

Photography: © 1965 Yousuf Karsh