Swiss sculptor and painter, Alberto Giacometti, sculpted his models the way he saw them, the way he thought they ought to be seen. His imagery and elongated technique have become a significant influence and inspiration to artists, as well as a reflection of mid-twentieth century art that represents the weary hopes of humanity in the face of the horrors of war.
Alberto Giacometti was born in October 1901, in Borgonovo, Val Bregaglia, Switzerland to post-impressionist painter Giovanno Giacometti. The eldest of four children, he was close to his family, especially to his brother Diego. His father, quick to pick up on his young son’s artistic abilities, enrolled him in the School of Arts and Crafts in Geneva to develop his creative talent.
In 1922, Giacometti traveled to Paris to study under the sculptor Bourdelle at the Ecole de la Grande Chaumiére where he experimented with cubism. The artist had his first one-man exhibition in 1927 at a gallery in Zurich where he was assisted by his brother Diego. Later that year, his display of surrealist sculptures at Salon des Tuileries, had Paris regarding him as one of the leading surrealist sculptors of that era. Having gained certain notoriety, he was asked to write and provide illustrations for André Breton’s magazine ‘Le Surréalisme au Service de la Révolution’.
Two sculptures by Giacometti were exhibited in 1928 at the Galerie Jeanne Bucher. These not only sold immediately, but also brought the artist into contact with the Paris avant-garde, including Masson. Art dealer, Pierre Loeb, offered him a contract and an invitation to join the Surrealist Group. An exhibition in 1932 set the fashion for surrealist objects with symbolic or erotic overtones. Over the next few years, his highly original sculptures became really “stretched out” as the limbs of his emaciated human figures became increasingly elongated.
In wartime Paris, the Occupation tightened its grip. Alberto Giacometti moved to Switzerland, arriving in Geneva on the last day of 1941. He survived those years living in a small hotel room, supporting himself by making furniture and doing interior decoration. There he met Annette Arm, whom he later married in 1946. Models that would consent to pose nude were not easy to find at that time, so Annette became the model for his many sculptures. His female nudes stand as a symbol of the indestructible essence of humanity.
In January 1948, Alberto Giacometti enjoyed a successful exhibition at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York. From this point on, his post-war reputation as a sculptor became wide-spread. He held his first European one-man show of his new work at the Kunsthalle in Basle in 1950, and his first Paris exhibition since the war at the Galerie Maeght in 1951. He was awarded the major prize for sculpture at the Venice Biennale of 1962, an award that brought him worldwide celebrity. This would be the beginning of a large number of exhibitions throughout Europe and the United States including the New York Museum of Modern art in 1965.
In the 1960s, Alberto Giacometti was diagnosed with cancer. Although he managed to survive the cancer, he was later plagued by heart disease that would take his life in June of 1966 at the Kantonsspital in Chur, Switzerland. ‘Paris sans fin’, a sequence of 150 lithographs, would be his last completed project before death. In honor of his work, Giacometti is featured on the one hundred Swiss Franks banknotes.