The vision of his works is always a sensation, as his sculptures and paintings prove to be on auction or in museum collections: Alberto Giacometti (1901 – 1966) was a Swiss sculptor, painter, and printmaker. Since 1922 he lived and worked mainly in Paris, where he studied sculpture with Antoine Bourdelle, an associate of Rodin. Nonetheless, he regularly visited his hometown Borgonuovo, a small town on the Swiss-Italian border, to see his family and work on his creations far from the Paris crowds. His face has become a sort of “pop” icon, portrayed on the 100 Swiss franc banknotes: Giacometti is undoubtedly one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century. His work was particularly influenced by artistic styles such as Cubism and Surrealism. Still, the philosophical debate of his time also deeply impacted his work. In France, he got involved in Existentialism and Phenomenology through authors such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, reflecting on the human condition and the meaning of existence. Around 1935 he gave up on his Surrealist influences to pursue a deepened analysis of figurative compositions. Giacometti also wrote texts for periodicals and exhibition catalogs and recorded his thoughts and memories in notebooks and diaries. His critical nature led to self-doubt about his work: his insecurities remained a powerful motivating artistic force throughout his entire life.
Between 1936 and 1940, Giacometti concentrated his sculpting on the human head, focusing on the sitter’s gaze. He usually preferred working with well-known models, such as his sister and brother. When he started casting entire figures, in the first phase, Giacometti worked on a very small scale. Until 1944, Giacometti’s sculptures had a maximum height of seven centimeters to reflect the distance between the artist’s position and his model. Only after World War II his sculptures “grew” in height to extremely tall and slender, corroded figures.
In Giacometti’s whole body of work, painting represents only a small part. After 1957, however, his figurative paintings were equally as significant, in his creative process, as his sculptures.
In 1958 Giacometti was asked to create a monumental work for the Chase Manhattan Bank building in New York, which was beginning construction. He accepted enthusiastically since he had for many years “harbored an ambition to create work for a public square,” but he had never set foot in New York and knew nothing about metropolis life. Nevertheless, Giacometti’s work on the project resulted in the four figures of standing women—his largest sculpture—entitled Grande Femme debout I through IV (1960). However, the commission was never completed because Giacometti was unsatisfied with the relationship between the sculpture and the site and abandoned the project.
Giacometti’s fame skyrocketed in 1962 when he won the grand prize for sculpture at the Venice Biennale. Still, his growing success and rising demand for his work didn’t affect the scrupulosity and self-doubt of his creative process: he still reworked models over and over, often destroying them or setting them aside to be returned years later.
In his later years, Giacometti’s works were requested by galleries, museums, and institutions throughout Europe. Riding his new international popularity, and despite his declining health, he traveled to the United States in 1965 for an exhibition of his works at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. 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.
Giacometti died in 1966 of heart disease in Chur, Switzerland. His body was returned to his birthplace in Borgonovo, where he was interred close to his parents.
With no children, his wife, Annette Giacometti (married in 1949), became the sole holder of his estate property rights. She worked to collect a full listing of his authentic works, fighting the rising number of counterfeited works. However, when she died in 1993, the estate was transferred to Fondation Giacometti, created by the French state.
While major exhibitions and tributes to Giacometti are ongoing all around the world, the value of his works has reached incredible figures: his “L’homme au doigt,” sold at Christie’s New York in 2015 for a stunning 141 million dollars, is up to date, the most expensive sculpture sold at auction.