Fine Artists: Alberto Giacometti Swiss Artist 1901-1966


Alberto Giacometti, "City Square", bronze sculpture, 1948 Alberto Giacometti was a Swiss sculptor, painter, draftsman, and printmaker. Giacometti was a popular artist and sculptor renowned for his complete dedication to his work. Alberto Giacometti is best known for is sculptures of the human form, stretched out with elongated limbs.

Alberto Giacometti was born in the little village of Borgonovo in the Swiss canton of Grisons on October 10, 1901. He spent his first school years in the neighboring village of Stampa. Alberto's father, Giovanni Giacometti, was a neo-impressionist painter, and under his instructions Alberto learned to paint and make models.

His father introduced him to working in the atelier, his godfather (the painter Cuno Amiet) taught him the latest styles and techniques, and the other members of his family assisted with his artistic development by sitting for him as models. In 1916, during high school, Alberto Giacometti displayed total mastery of impressionist language in a portrait of his mother modeled with plastilina. Shortly before graduating from secondary school, Alberto Giacometti dropped out of school in 1919 to fully dedicate himself to art.


Following a trip to Venice and Rome in 1920, during which Giacometti developed a passion for the work of Tintoretto and Giotto, Alberto Giacometti resolved to recover the innocent gaze of man's origins through primitive art and anthropology. In 1922 Alberto Giacometti moved to Paris to study under the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, an associate of Auguste Rodin. It was there that Alberto Giacomettiexperimented with cubism and surrealism. Among Alberto Giacometti's associates were Joan Miró, Max Ernst, Pablo Picasso and Balthus. It was at this point Alberto Giacometti started writing and drawing for his magazine "Le surréalisme au Service de la Révolution" and he began to establish himself as a leading sculptor of the Surrealist movement.


Early painting by  Swiss Surrealist artist  Alberto GiacomettiIn 1925 Alberto's brother Diego joined him in Paris and became his permanent assistant. Between 1936 and 1940, Alberto Giacometti concentrated his sculpting on the human head, focusing on the model's gaze, followed by a unique artistic phase in which his statues became stretched out; their limbs elongated. Obsessed with creating his sculptures exactly as he envisioned through his unique view of reality, Alberto Giacometti often carved until they were as thin as nails and reduced to the size of a pack of cigarettes, much to his consternation. A friend of his once said that if Giacometti decided to sculpt you, "he would make your head look like the blade of a knife." His paintings underwent a parallel procedure. The figures appear isolated, are severely attenuated, and are the result of continuous reworking. Subjects were frequently revisited: one of his favorite models was his younger brother Diego Giacometti.

During World War II, Alberto Giacometti lived in the safety of Geneva where he met Annette Arm. In 1946 he and Arm returned to Paris where in 1949 they married. Giacometti's most productive period followed the marriage. His wife provided him with the opportunity to constantly to be in touch with another human body, particularly a feminine one. Models who had posed for him found it a difficult job, but Arm patiently sat for him for hours until he achieved what he wanted. After his marriage his tiny sculptures became larger, but the larger they grew, the thinner they became. Alberto Giacometti said that the final result represented the sensation he felt when he looked at a woman.

By the early 1950s, the use of bronze had become affordable (metals were in short supply during World War II) and Alberto Giacometti began to cast his works in bronze. Commissioned to design a medallion depicting Henri Matisse in 1954, Alberto Giacometti created numerous masterful drawings of the great painter in the last months of Matisse's life.

Sotheby's said the anonymous non-communicating figures" in Giacometti's "Trois hommes qui marchent I", captured his existentialist concerns.In 1962, Alberto Giacometti was awarded the grand prize for sculpture at the Venice Biennale, and the award brought with it worldwide fame. Giacometti's striding or standing figures find themselves in emptiness and isolation. In this intensive-subjective representation, an existential exposure and angst based on the immediacy of the moment is hinted at. To many they are a reflection of the spiritual situation of the time.

Just like his sculptures, Giacometti's drawings and paintings depict the lost human being in the emptiness of space with great intensity and sensibility. The formal characteristics are a graphic network of lines, with which Alberto Giacometti extracted volumes from areas, and an almost monochrome color scheme used in his paintings.

Even when Alberto Giacometti had achieved popularity and his work was in demand, he still reworked models, often destroying them or setting them aside to be returned to years later. In his later years Giacometti's works were shown in a number of large exhibitions throughout Europe. Riding a wave of international popularity, and despite his declining health, Alberto Giacometti traveled to the United States in 1965 for an exhibition of his works at the New York Museum of Modern Art.

Alberto Giacometti died January 11, 1966 of heart disease and chronic bronchitis at the Kantonsspital in Chur, Switzerland. His body was returned to his birthplace in Borgonovo, where he was interred close to his parents. Alberto Giacometti was a key player in the Surrealist Movement, but his work resists easy categorization. Some describe it as formalist, others argue it is expressionist. Alberto Giacometti's unmistakable works are present in all the world's major collections, representing art in the mid 20th century in an exemplary way.
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Alberto Giacometti
Swiss Artist
Scuptures and "striding men"