Alberto Giacometti is born on 10 October 1901 in the mountain village of Borgonovo near Stampa, in the Italian-speaking valley of Bregaglia in the Swiss canton of Grisons. His father, Giovanni Giacometti (1868-1933), is a Post-Impressionist painter influenced by Segantini, Cézanne and van Gogh; his mother, Annetta Giacometti-Stampa (1871-1964), comes from one of the valley's landed families. Giacometti’s godfather is the Fauvist painter Cuno Amiet, a close friend of his father's since their student days in Paris. The Symbolist artist Augusto Giacometti (1877-1947), a key figure in the world of Swiss and European painting in its transition to the non-figurative, is second cousin to both his parents.
Birth of brother Diego, who will share Giacometti’s life and work in Paris, beginning in 1925 and sit for him as a model many times over the course of fifty years. Following initial attempts in the 1930s, Diego Giacometti builds up his own artisanal furniture production in the aftermath of the war. He dies in 1985.
Birth of sister Ottilia. In October the family moves to Stampa, to an apartment in the Hôtel Piz Duan run by Giovanni’s father.
The family moves in the upper storey of an old house nearby. Giacometti's parents take pains with the furnishings, and Giovanni Giacometti converts the hayloft of a neighbouring stable into a studio. His subjects include the landscape, Annetta, their children, and family life.
Birth of brother Bruno; the painter Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918) is his godfather.
The family habitually summers in Maloja, on the mountain pass to the Engadine. An uncle of Annetta’s owns a house, across from the elegant Palace-Hotel Kurhaus in the village of Capolago, which Annetta is to inherit in 1909.
Pencil drawings in black-and-white and colour sent to his godfather Cuno Amiet have been preserved from nearly every year of Giacometti’s childhood, and meticulous copies of Old Masters attest to early, intensive study of his father’s art books. In 1913 Giacometti produces his first painting in oil in his father’s studio, a still life with apples on a folding table. In the days following Christmas of 1914 he models the heads of Diego and Bruno in plasticine.
From 30 August 1915 to 7April 1919 Giacometti attends Evangelical boarding school in Schiers, near Chur, where a small studio has been set up for him. Here and at home in 1918 he is already producing masterful drawings.
Giacometti spends the spring and summer in Stampa and Maloja, where under his father’s coaching he draws and paints in a divisionist style. In the fall he begins studying in art at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and at the Ecole des Arts Industriels, both in Geneva, though with limited enthusiasm. He finds painting (with David Estoppey, 1862-1952, a Pointillist) easy, while in modeling Maurice Sarkissoff (1862-1946, a ‘Modernist’ sculptor between Rodin and Archipenko), gives him free rein.
In late March Giacometti spends a week and a half with Cuno Amiet in Oschwand. In May Giovanni, a member of the Swiss Federal Art Commission, takes his son to the Venice Biennale, where he discovers Jacopo Tintoretto. Soon after, however, Giacometti’s exclusive admiration for Tintoretto’s visions of space is tempered by the sculptural power of Giotto’s frescoes in the Padua’s Arena Chapel.
As of late summer Giacometti is back at work in Geneva, before setting out for Florence in mid-November. His main impressions there are of the Archeological Museum, where an Egyptian head of the 18th Dynasty strikes him (as he will describe it later) as the first sculpture he has seen that is ‘true to life’. Giacometti travels by way of Perugia and Assisi, where he is fascinated by Cimabue, to Rome, arriving there on 21 December.
In Rome Giacometti stays with the family of a cousin of his parents, Antonio Giacometti. He falls in love with the eldest of the six children, the fifteen-year-old Bianca; when he attempts to sculpt her likeness in the form of a bust, however, he runs into unforeseen difficulties. He takes a small studio in the Via Ripetta, visits museums and churches, and draws copies of Old Masters. He attends operas and concerts and reads authors both antique and modern, all inspiration for further drawings. In late March or early April he travels to Naples, Paestum and Pompeii, and in July returns to Maloja.
On 3 September Giacometti travels to Madonna di Campiglio with the 61-year-old State Archivist of Den Haag, Pieter van Meurs, who is taken ill the following day with kidney stones, to which he succumbs in the night of 5 September. Giacometti will never forget the agony and sudden finality of death, and never again sleep in the complete darkness. On 6 September he travels to Venice and from there returns to Stampa on 10 September.
On 9 January Giacometti arrives in Paris. He enrolls in the life drawing and sculpture class of Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929) at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. Bourdelle’s teaching consists in weekly correction sessions featuring long lectures delivered by the master amid the modeling stands. Giacometti attends the Académie until 1926, albeit with months-long absences.
From August to October he completes boot camp in Herisau as a member of the mountain infantry corps. During his first years in Paris Giacometti returns to the Bregaglia valley for many weeks.
The centre of the Paris art scene in the ‘golden twenties’ is Montparnasse, where Giacometti spends an entire winter using a skull as the model for a painting and drawings.
His first acquaintances in Paris are artists from Switzerland, in particular from Basel, among them Serge Brignoni, with whom he shares an interest in tribal art as well as, beginning with its rise in 1924, Surrealism. He rents a spacious studio at 77, rue Denfert-Rochereau.
In January Giacometti takes his second, somewhat smaller Paris studio, at 37, rue Froidevaux, looking out on Montparnasse Cemetery. Diego moves to Paris in February and joins Alberto.
Giacometti’s friends at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière now include colleagues from Italy and Scandinavia as well as a few local artists. Among his French colleagues is Pierre Matisse, the son of Henri Matisse, who will become a prominent art dealer in New York. Giacometti begins a rocky affair with Flora Mayo; the relationship lasts until 1929.
He experiences a crisis while modeling his mother’s head in Maloja. Giacometti does not see, how to advance in the representational and turns to the study of avant-garde sculpture.
In November Giacometti shows his work for the first time at the Salon des Tuileries: a ‘Head’and an early version of ‘Torso’, which mark his transition to Cubist form. During the same month he also participates in the Paris ‘Exhibition of Swiss Artists’.
Giacometti’s involvement with Cubism and tribal art gives rise to his first major work, ‘Spoon Woman’ in the winter of 1926/27. He shows ‘Man and Woman’ and a ‘Bust’ at the Salon des Tuileries.
In December Giacometti moves into the barracks-like studio building at 46, rue Hippolyte-Maindron. Measuring 4.75 x 4.90 m, the studio has a common water tape and toilet in the courtyard. Giacometti will work here to the last. Diego sleeps on the mezzanine, Giacometti himself in the workroom below or at the nearby Hotel Primavera.
In April he exhibits ‘The Couple’ and ‘Spoon Woman’ at the Salon des Tuileries, between a ‘Bird’ of Brancusi’s and a sculpture by Zadkine.
Giacometti produces several busts of his father during the summer and shows plaster busts of Giovanni Giacometti, of his brother and a young girl, at Galerie Aktuaryus in Zurich.
In February 1928 Giacometti contributes six sculptures to the exhibition ‘Italian Artists in Paris’.
In the winter of 1928/29 he develops by reducing the forms ever more his ‘Gazing Head’ and other plaque sculptures.
In January Giacometti shows plaque sculptures at the Salon des Indépendants, and in June Jeanne Bucher exhibits ‘Gazing Head’ and ‘Figure’, together with works by Campigli, at her gallery. They are an immediate sensation among artists and literary figures, and give Giacometti entré to the leading avant-garde circles. He becomes acquainted with André Masson, Hans Arp, Joan Miró, Max Ernst, Alexander Calder, Jean Lurçat and Pablo Picasso as well as with Surrealist writers the likes of Louis Aragon and Georges Bataille. At the suggestion of the art critic Carl Einstein, poet and ethnologist Michel Leiris publishes the first pathbreaking essay on Giacometti in Bataille’s journal Documents.
Giacometti signs a contract with art dealer Pierre Loeb, who undertakes to pay him a monthly salary in return for the right to acquire, or exhibit and sell, the artist’s entire production for a year.
The plaque sculpture principle is further varied and developed in the filigree constructions ‘Man (Apollo)’, ‘Reclining Woman’ and ‘Reclining Woman Who Dreams’. In the autumn art critic and later art book publisher Tériade selects two works for the ambitious ‘International Sculpture Show’ at the Galerie Georges Bernheim, while in November and December the Galerie Wolfensberger in Zurich presents Giacometti’s ‘Man and Woman’ in its exhibition ‘Production Paris 1929’.
Giacometti’s reputation leads to new connections and commissions. He begins filling orders for decorative objects for the likes of banker Pierre David-Weill, for whom he produces bronze firedogs and a spidery relief, and suggests that Diego, now working in Basel, return to Paris to assist him.
Beginning of Giacometti’s collaboration with Jean-Michel Frank, an ensemblier, or decorator, who designs interiors for the beau monde while Giacometti creates the appropriate ‘objets utilitaires’ or accessories, such as vases, lamps and sconces. He also creates jewellery for fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli.
The most important patron of the Surrealists, Vicomte de Noailles, commissions Giacometti a large sculpture for the garden of his summer residence built by Robert Mallet-Stevens in Hyères on the Côte d’Azur.
In the spring Pierre Loeb presents ‘Miró – Arp – Giacometti’ at his gallery at 2, rue des Beaux-Arts. ‘Suspended Ball’ creates a sensation among André Breton and his Surrealist circle; he urges Giacometti to join them. He participates in the group’s activities and séances until the winter of 1931/32, and again in 1933, but never he never fully succumbs to Breton’s doctrine.
In August, on an Alpine meadow in Maloja, Giacometti creates three plaster stele figures as studies for his ‘mysterious persons’ in Hyères. On his return to Paris the artist inspects the intended site in the garden of the Villa Saint-Bernard and in December produces a model of the piece, condensed into a single large statue.
In May Giacometti signs the Surrealists pamphlet against the ‘International Colonial Exhibition’. From 22 May to 6 June the Galerie Pierre Loeb includes works by Giacometti in its exhibition ‘Where Are We Going?’ although Giacometti has terminated his contract with Pierre Loeb and is now represented by Pierre Colle.
In December Giacometti’s first published writing, ‘Mobile and Mute Objects’, appears in the third issue of Breton’s journal Le Surréalisme au Service de la Révolution, followed by Dalí’s article identifying ‘Suspended Ball’ as the prototype of the Surrealist object.
Giacometti aligns himself with the left-wing Surrealists, led by Louis Aragon, and between 1932 and 1935 contributes anti-clerical caricatures in the spirit of class struggle to Aragon’s journals La lutte and Commune.
In May the Galerie Pierre Colle mounts Giacometti’s first one-man show. Picasso is among its first visitors. Christian Zervos publishes an essay on Giacometti’s sculptures in his journal Cahiers d’art, illustrated with several photographs by Man Ray.
Giacometti draws two views of his studio for the Roman countess Madina Visconti, which present an overview of his production to date, at the centre of which is his ‘The Palace at 4 A.M’.
In Stampa and Maloja Giacometti creates paintings of his father.
In February and March Giacometti takes part in the Surrealist meetings led by André Breton and Paul Eluard at which suggestive questions are the means to “Recherches expérimentales sur la connaissance irrationelle d'un objet”, the title of a report including Giacometti’s responses published in the May issue of Le Surréalisme au Service de la Révolution.
On 20 June the Vicomte de Noailles purchases Giacometti’s ‘The Table’ from the ‘Surrealist Exhibition’ at the Galerie Pierre Colle. Together with Arp, Victor Brauner, Max Ernst, Magritte, Miró, Meret Oppenheim, Man Ray, Tanguy and other Surrealists, Giacometti exhibits at the Salon des Surindépendants, where he shows a large version of ‘The Cage’.
Giovanni Giacometti dies on 25 June at the Valmont private clinic in Glion above Montreux. The artist and Diego arrive there the next day. Giacometti falls ill and does not return to the Bregaglia valley until after the funeral. He essentially remains at his mother’s side until the end of the following year, settling his father’s estate and organizing exhibitions of his work. Giacometti loses his usual compulsion to work and his interest in Surrealist objects and constructions.
In the spring Giacometti spends several weeks in Paris, where he creates ‘Cube’, ‘Head-Skull’ and ‘The Invisible Object’. In the summer he chisels the slab for his father’s grave at the San Giorgio cemetery in Borgonovo. On its front the stone features a relief with bird and star, on the back a torso. In Maloja he attemps a last Surrealist figure, a tall cone with the inscription ‘1 + 1 = 3’, and paints portraits of Maria Fasciati, who assists Annetta around the house.
From 1 December 1934 to 1 January 1935, parallel to a Dalí presentation, New York’s Julien Levy Gallery organizes Giacometti’s first show in the USA. The exhibition is not crowned with success.
During 1934 Surrealism is on the march internationally, with survey exhibitions regularly including works of Giacometti’s and presentations of Constructivist art.
Giacometti returns in January to Paris and continues his realistic studies of heads, at first without a model, then with Diego and the professional model Rita Gueyfier sitting for him.
For the Surrealists, this turn constitutes treason; told to account for himself at a meeting of André Breton’s group on 14 February, Giacometti breaks off the interrogation and leaves the group. The excommunication means the end of his ties to Parisian Surrealism, as well as a host of friends. He remains in contact with Aragon and Max Ernst and turns to other artists, André Derain, Jean Hélion and the younger figurative painters Balthus, Francis Gruber, Tal Coat and Francis Tailleux.
He ends his relationship with Denise Maisonneuve, his muse since 1930. Towards the end of the year he meets the twenty-three-year-old Englishwoman Isabel Nicholas (later Delmer, Lambert and Rawsthorne), who becomes an important friend and model.
Max Ernst visits him in Maloja in the summer and arranges stones from the Forno glacier, minimally painted or chiselled, to a garden.
Giacometti pursues his solitary work on representations of the head using a small circle of trusted models. He is inspired by the major Cézanne exhibition and the art of Egypt, copying works with great intensity. Together with Diego, he continues to earn his keep by creating objects for Jean-Michel Frank.
In New York Alfred Barr shows several works and acquires ‘The Palace at 4 A.M’ for the Museum of Modern Art.
At the Café de Flore Giacometti strikes up a conversation with Samuel Beckett, to be pursued over the course of countless random strolls through the streets of Montparnasse at night. He visits Picasso at his ‘Guernica’studio in the rue des Grands-Augustins.
In Stampa, while his difficulties modeling heads persist, Giacometti paints ‘Apple on a Sideboard’ and ‘The Artist’s Mother’, his first successful renderings of his notion of ‘phenomenological realism’.
On 10 October Ottilia dies following the birth of Silvio in Geneva.
One evening Giacometti sees Isabel from afar on the Boulevard Saint-Michel, an experience that will lead him to attempt to capture the appearance of human presence at great distance.
Giacometti’s work on heads is interrupted for several weeks when he suffers a traffic accident on the Place des Pyramides on 18 October. He is treated at the Rémy-de-Goncourt clinic by Dr. Raymond Leibovici. The surgeon releases him on 26 October with a cast on his foot and instructions for its appropriate care, but Giacometti eschews the healing process and will limp from now on. While in the clinic Giacometti sees the trolley bearing clinking medicine bottles that will serve as the model for his sculpture ‘The Chariot’.
Giacometti’s portrait busts and figures are now no bigger than a nut. They are meant to suggest the appearance of a person seen from a distance, rendered palpable in ever-smaller figures on ever-larger pedestals.
Giacometti’s brother Bruno brokers two commissions for the Swiss National Exhibition in Zurich, beginning in May. Following a trial assembly of one of the very small sculptures using the colossal pedestal prepared according to Giacometti’s specifications, the 1934 ‘Cube’ is mounted instead.
When war breaks out on 1 September 1939, Giacometti and Diego are in Maloja, and on 2 September they report for duty with the Swiss Army in Chur. Giacometti is, however, not fit for service. He is back in Paris in mid-November, followed in late December by Diego.
At the Café de Flore Giacometti is approached by Jean-Paul Sartre, who with his companion Simone de Beauvoir finds him a fascinating interlocutor and an artist “in quest of the absolute”, as Sartre will put it in his 1947 essay on Giacometti.
For the moment, Parisian life – by day and by night – pursues its accustomed course, despite the growing flight of foreigners and artists from France.
Peggy Guggenheim begins selling Giacometti’s works and exhibiting them in New York.
In May of 1940 Giacometti stows his mini-sculptures away in a corner of his studio and on 13 June, just ahead of the German Army’s entrance into Paris, joins Diego and his companion Nelly in the general exodus towards the south on bicycle. The next day, outside of Etampes, they witness the bombing of the city while the column of refugees is strafed from the air with machine-gun fire. On 17 June they reach Moulins, only to be overtaken by the German advance the next day. They turn back and are in Paris again on 22 June.
1941 - 1945
From December 1941 to September 1945 Giacometti lives and works in Geneva. He stays initially with his brother-in-law, Dr. Francis Berthoud, where Annetta is raising her sole grandchild, Silvio, following the death in childbirth of his mother Ottilia in 1937. Giacometti moves next to a sparsely furnished room with no running water and pays daily visits to his mother. He makes drawings for his little nephew Silvio, and has him pose for him, as his figures and heads grow ever smaller, and his pedestals ever larger.
Giacometti meets regularly at the Café Commerce with Albert Skira, who is creating a publishing house for art books in his hometown. From October 1944 to December 1946 Skira publishes the journal Labyrinthe, to which Giacometti contributes ideas, drawings and texts. Their meetings include the sculptor Hugo Weber, the painters Charles Rollier, Roger Montandon and, occasionally, Balthus, the photographer Eli Lotar, the actor Michel Simon, the philosopher Jean Starobinski and the writer Ludwig Hohl; the geologist Charles Ducloz is to become a close friend. In October 1943 he meets Annette Arm (1923-1993), a young woman keen to leave her parents’ house and experience life.
Giacometti spends summers and part of each winter in Stampa and Maloja, where in 1942/44 he creates ‘Woman with Chariot’, the only large sculpture of this period and clearly reminiscent of Isabel.
Once Paris has been liberated in the summer of 1944 Giacometti applies for the papers necessary for his return but does not enter his studio again until 18 September 1945, after more than three years of absence, during which time Diego has acted as custodian. In a café on the Champs-Elysées Giacometti soon runs into Isabel Nicholas, who has returned from London. They live together in a rented room in the rue Hippolyte-Maindron for three months. On December 25 she leaves him for good.
Giacometti continues his solitary work and his gregarious nightlife in Montparnasse and, from now on, in Saint-Germain-des-Prés as well.
Although his figures remain tiny, in February a striking experience at the cinema intensifies his perception of people and things in space to the hyperbolic level of a vision. By making drawings of passersby on the street he gradually finds his way to the elongated figures that characterize his mature style. Sixteen pages of reproductions in Cahiers d’art document this transition.
Projects for monuments initiated by Aragon never advance beyond the design stage among them a first Egyptian-inspired ‘Walking Man’. Some of his new drawings are exhibited at the Galerie Pierre Loeb.
Giacometti travels to Geneva at Easter. On 6 July Annette arrives in Paris, where she will stay. She gets to know Giacometti’s friends and comes to terms with the primitive living conditions in the rue Hippolyte-Maindron.
Giacometti’s new concept of the figure coalesces into the so-called Giacometti style of sticklike forms: standing women in hieratic frontality, striding men as hieroglyphs of locomotion. Their rough modeling is developed in sculptures of body fragments.
Pierre Matisse offers to cast bronzes for a one-man exhibition and produce a catalogue. This heightens Giacometti’s productivity significantly. Toward the end of the year he retraces his artistic career in an eight-page autobiographical letter illustrated with sketches of his works.
From 19 January to 14 February Giacometti’s new works can be seen for the first time at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York. The catalogue features photographs by Patricia Echaurren Mattà (soon to become Mrs. Matisse), Sartre’s essay “The Search for the Absolute”, and Giacometti’s autobiographical letter with work list. The exhibition heralds the rise of Giacometti’s postwar renown in the English-speaking world.
He initiates multi-figure work with ‘City Square’.
Giacometti rents a room in addition to his studio to serve as a modest bedchamber for himself and Annette, who now sits for him for hours, modeling initially for his paintings.
The fame of the “new” Giacometti spreads across Paris. The dealer Pierre Loeb prevails on the artist to resume making etchings, some of them for the publications of his old friends Tristan Tzara and Georges Bataille. One of his new friends is the poet Olivier Larronde, whom he assists, as he does others, by contributing graphics for the luxury editions of his books.
The mature style now begins to reveal itself in painting as well as in sculpture.
On July 19 Annette Arm and Alberto Giacometti are married at the registry office in the 14th arrondissement. Now Giacometti can take Annette with him on visits to his mother in Stampa and Maloja, where he continues to work from nature.
The gallery of Aimé Maeght, under the artistic directorship of Louis Clayeux, offers him an exhibition in Paris. Giacometti creates a magnificent and varied series of compositions with single figures or figural groupings in different spatial situations.
Encouraged by the French commissioner for the Venice Biennale to show his work with that of Henri Laurens, Giacometti travels to Venice with several sculptures, planning to exhibit them in the French section. When he sees how Laurens’s works are overshadowed by those of Ossip Zadkine, Giacometti packs up his figures and leaves.
At the instigation of old school friends from Schiers, Lucas Lichtenhan and Christoph Bernoulli, Robert Stoll presents fifteen sculptures, ten paintings, and twenty-five drawings by Giacometti in the Kunsthalle Basel in May, in a joint exhibition with André Masson. Georg Schmidt, director of the Basel museum, uses funds from the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation to purchase ‘City Square’ and two paintings.
In November a second show is presented at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York. It includes sixteen of the complex compositions from 1949 and 1950, all of which are now cast in bronze. These are sold, along with six paintings and a drawing. For the catalogue Giacometti writes the so-called “Second Letter to Pierre Matisse”; the comments on his works contained in this letter provide the basis for titles customarily used from this time on.
Giacometti begins to search for a new direction in his sculpture by working on busts of Diego.
In June and July the postwar works are shown in Paris for the first time in the Galerie Maeght, establishing his fame in Europe as well. Aimé Maeght has Giacometti produce lithographs, in 4 part for the gallery’s journal Derrière le miroir. Most of them are depictions of his atelier with sculptures. Michel Leiris contributes the text “Pierres pour un Alberto Giacometti.”
In November, on their way home from Stampa, Annette and Alberto Giacometti visit Henri Matisse in Nice and Picasso in Vallauris. Picasso and Giacometti have seen very little of each other since the war, and their meeting leads to an ugly encounter that ends their friendship. Giacometti declines an invitation from the Swiss Art Commission to show his work in the new Swiss pavilion at the 1952 Venice Biennale.
In February 1952 the American writer James Lord meets Giacometti in the Café des Deux Magots. Lord’s increasingly frequent visits to the artist’s atelier and conversations with Giacometti’s friends, as well as his friendship with Diego, give him an intimate knowledge of Giacometti’s work and his private life. He begins to collect material for the comprehensive biography he will publish in 1985.
Following the period of the important postwar sculptures of 1947–50, Giacometti turns to modeling and painting from life, rendering the models’ heads as he sees them from a specific distance during hours of sittings. He is determined to get away from excessive thinness. He begins painting landscapes in Stampa.
Most exhibitions of twentieth-century art by now include works by Giacometti: in Paris (Musée d’art moderne), in Zürich (Kunsthaus), in Basel (Kunsthalle), and in the United States (Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, and The Museum of Modern Art, New York).
The Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, on the initiative of the knowledgeable art critic David Sylvester, devotes two symposia to Giacometti. Giacometti produces a portrait of him, as well as of his colleague Peter Watson.
In November the Arts Club in Chicago mounts a solo show.
In the spring American steel tycoon G. David Thompson of Pittsburgh pays a call on Giacometti at his studio. He has been purchasing Giacometti sculptures from Pierre Matisse since 1953 for his collection of modern art, which includes mastpieces by Matisse, Picasso, Léger and Miró, alongside numerous works by Paul Klee. He now intends to put together the largest Giacometti collection anywhere, and if possible buy works from the artist directly. In 1962 Basel art dealer Ernst Beyeler acquires the fruit of Thompson’s labour, a truly significant collection on the basis of which the Alberto Giacometti Foundation will be established in 1965.
Giacometti meets the writer Jean Genet, the beginning of a relationship that will last several years. He is fascinated by Genet’s eccentricity and adventurousness, as well as by his round bald head, which he draws and paints. In 1957 Genet will publish recollections of the time as The Studio of Alberto Giacometti.
In May the Galerie Maeght mounts its second Giacometti exhibition, featuring paintings in addition to new sculptures and drawings and presenting the artist as an important painter as well as sculptor.
From 30 June to 7 July, and again in September, Giacometti visits Henri Matisse in his sickbed in Nice. He draws numerous portraits of the still lively old man which will serve to create a medal commissioned by the French mint. Matisse dies on 3 November.
The first museum exhibition in Germany devoted to Giacometti, comprising about sixty works, travels from May to October from Krefeld by way of Düsseldorf to Stuttgart. In June and July two extensive retrospectives are presented simultaneously, one by the Arts Council in London, organized by David Sylvester, the other by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.
On 8 November Giacometti meets the Japanese philosophy professor Isaku Yanaihara. He has been asked to write an article on the artist for a Japanese journal, and during his subsequent visits to Giacometti’s studio a close friendship will develop, one that will also include Annette, and have Yanaihara back in Paris each year (except in 1958) until 1961. Yanaihara records their meetings and conversations in his journal, for use in the Japanese-language Giacometti monograph he will publish in Tokyo in 1958.
For his show in the French pavilion at the Venice Biennale Giacometti works on a standing female figure a little over a meter in height, which he models in various versions using the same armature and mass of clay, and which Diego regularly casts the following day in plaster. Of the more than 15 states of these women, nine will later be cast in bronze.
In Venice in early June Giacometti installs ‘Women of Venice’, in two groups of four and six figures each, alongside six other sculptures. From there he travels to Bern for the opening on 16 June of a retrospective of his work organized by Franz Meyer at the Kunsthalle.
On 6 October Yanaihara sits for Giacometti for the first time, initially for drawings, then for paintings as well, putting off his return to Japan for weeks. Giacometti cannot come to grips with his painting and suffers a ‘crisis’ that will last until 1958 and issue in a final stylistic breakthrough, complete with a novel conception of reality.
Throughout the year, Giacometti’s dealers Aimé Maeght and Pierre Matisse arrange for the casting of numerous early works. He is now not only world-famous artist but also a highly paid one. He passes along bundles of banknotes to his mother, his brother Diego, and various nocturnal acquaintances, but allows his wife few luxuries. He rents a second auxiliary room at his digs in Rue Hippolyte-Maindron and has a telephone installed. His own needs and habits will not change in the slightest until the end of his days. His first and only meal before midnight consists of hardboiled eggs and many cups of coffee, taken in the early afternoon at the Café-Tabac Le Gaulois at the intersection of the Rue d’Alésia and the Rue Didot. At night he has a table reserved for him at La Coupole.
Giacometti cancels many exhibitions during this period, still plagued by unresolved problems with his representation of humanity: in busts and portraits that combine the unique individuality of the here and now with the timelessness of generalized significance, as immanent in the art of antique civilizations.
The architect Gordon Bunshaft, of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, invites Giacometti to create a sculpture for the new Chase Manhattan Plaza in New York, currently under construction. He is apparently to be commissioned to create the open square sculpture, the ‘Composition with Figures’ that he has wanted to produce for 25 years.
The ‘crisis’ he has been suffering in his daily modeling work, and in particular when attempting to paint likenesses of Annette, Diego and Yanaihara, is now resolved in Giacometti’s burgeoning final style, which lends his sculptures a primordial volume, and his paintings a hieratic dignity.
Towards the end of the year, in a bar, Giacometti meets a twenty-year-old woman with murky connections who calls herself Caroline. Between 1960 and 1965 he will paint numerous portraits of her, the culmination of his new way of depicting reality. During his twilight years, Giacometti endures countless squalid experiences for her sake and spends large sums of money; their liaison is a burden on Annette and Diego.
From February 1959 to the spring of 1960 Giacometti works on the large figures for the Chase Manhattan Plaza. They are cast in bronze in1960, but the trial castings of a large head, a walking man and a standing woman are not up to his standards.
In the summer and autumn of 1959 Yanaihara is once again Giacometti’s main model, and in 1960 Giacometti also models portrait busts of him. Jacques Dupin and André du Bouchet join his circle of poet friends. Between 1957 and 1960, along with graphics for their luxury editions, he also produces 52 etchings for Michel Leiris’s Vivantes cendres, innommées.
Samuel Beckett invites Giacometti to design the set for Jean-Louis Barrault’s new production of Waiting for Godot at the Théâtre de l’Odéon in May; the result is an barren plaster tree.
At the instigation of the publisher Tériade, Giacometti embarks on an extensive series of lithographs with views of his Paris milieu, his studio, the surrounding streets and cafés, the driveway to the Mourlot printing house. It is to appear in 1969, along with a text of his, under the title Paris sans fin.
In August and September Giacometti paints his last portraits of Yanaihara.
In October Giacometti inspects the galleries in the main Venice Biennale building in which he is to display his work as both sculptor and painter the following year, by direct invitation of the Biennale itself and thus without any specific national affiliation.
Giacometti assists Jacques Dupin, a poet in the service of the Galerie Maeght, in the preparation of an initial monograph, an abundantly illustrated volume published by Maeght in early May 1963 (dated 1962). While Giacometti has given many interviews since 1951 and related his career as an autobiographical epic, with the result that he has become an almost legendary figure in his own lifetime, he has as yet resisted publishing a book of his own.
In early June he travels with Diego to Venice to set up his mostra personale (individual exhibition) at the Biennale. Giacometti endlessly revises the positioning of the sculptures and the heights of their pedestals and places the figures of the Chase Manhattan Plaza grouping so as to be appreciated independently as well as in the ‘Composition with Figures’. On the eve of the opening he is still at work, enhancing the effect of certain pieces with paint. Despite his hopes for distinction as both painter and sculptor with the Biennale’s grand prize, Giacometti is awarded the state prize for sculpture.
He spends the summer weeks in Stampa, drawing stirring portraits of his 91-year-old, housebound mother.
In London in the autumn as part of preparations for a one-man show at the Tate Gallery he is introduced to Francis Bacon by Isabel, now Mrs. Rawsthorne.
In response to Giacometti's stomach complaints, Dr. Remo Ratti of Maloja, working in Paris, has him X-rayed to reveal that an ulcer he has suffered from for years has developed into a tumour.
On 2 December, in spite of his condition, Giacometti attends the opening of his retrospective at the Kunsthaus Zürich. Arranged by the museum’s director, René Wehrli, together with his brother Bruno, the show features 300 works from 50 years of production and renders an account of Giacometti’s artistic achievement.
On 6 February Dr. Leibovici removes four-fifths of Giacometti’s stomach in Paris. The artist spends two weeks convalescing at the Rémy-de-Goncourt Clinic, then at the Hôtel Aiglon at 232, boulevard Raspail before traveling to Stampa. In Milan on 7 April he studies Michelangelo’s ‘Pietà Rondanini’.
Back in Paris, Giacometti resumes not only his work but also his exhausting routines, by day and by night, including – despite chronic bronchitis – chain-smoking. He understands that he can expect further complications arising from the stomach cancer and lives each day, and works on each piece, in the shadow of death.
In Washington, DC, in February and March the Phillips Collection mounts a Giacometti exhibition featuring 54 works. From July to September, the Galerie Beyeler in Basel shows the 143 Giacometti pieces comprised by the G. David Thompson Collection, and steps are taken for the establishment of a public Swiss Giacometti Foundation.
Giacometti spends the last weeks of December and the first weeks of January in Stampa, where his mother Annetta dies on 25 January in the bosom of her family.
Since late 1963 his Paris studio has seen regular visits by a new model, the photographer Elie Lotar, with whom, in addition to Diego and Annette, Giacometti works his way to the style of his last portrait busts.
Reading an inaccurate description of his own 1938 accident, the story of which he had repeatedly related to Sartre, in the philosopher’s autobiography, The Words, Giacometti breaks off all ties to the writer.
He also breaks with the Galerie Maeght in August, out of solidarity with Louis Clayeux, the gallery’s artistic director, who had been unjustly treated at the opening ceremonies of the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul-de-Vence on 28 July. Built by Josep Lluis Sert, the museum in the environs of Nice contains an important collection of sculptures donated to the Foundation in payment of the cost of casting, as well as, arranged by the artist himself in its garden courtyard, the painted bronzes originally meant for the Chase Manhattan Plaza in New York.
From 8 to 11 September Giacometti is in London recording an interview with David Sylvester of the BBC for subsequent publication, and, from 12 September to 1 October, paints and repaints in 18 sittings a portrait of James Lord. The latter photographs 11 of the developing states of the painting, which he will publish along with a record of their conversations in his Alberto Giacometti: A Portrait.
An examination at the Cantonal Hospital in Chur in October reveals that, while Giacometti’s cancer is in remission, the artist is suffering from extreme exhaustion.
In his last sculptures of Diego and Elie Lotar, Giacometti mutilates the three-dimensional physicality of the busts and elevates the heads by granting them visionary sight. The drawings for his Paris sans fin become a testimony to his life in the French capital.
His state of health is public knowledge, and invitations to mount exhibitions, offers of honours, publications and requests for accompanying texts flood in.
On 9 June The Museum of Modern Art in New York opens a comprehensive show that runs until 10 October before continuing to Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and on 17July London’s Tate Gallery holds a retrospective entitled ‘Alberto Giacometti: Sculpture, Paintings, Drawings 1913-1965’. The honouree attends both exhibitions, as well as a retrospective at the Louisiana Museum in Humlebaek, near Copenhagen.
In September Ernst Scheidegger and Peter Münger shoot Alberto Giacometti in Stampa und Paris, a film in which the artist paints Jacques Dupin’s portrait and converses with the poet while modeling a bust.
From 1 to 6 October Giacometti and Annette travel with Pierre and Patricia Matisse on the Queen Elizabeth to New York, where he visits not only his exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art but, under cover of night, the Chase Manhattan Plaza, where he positions Annette, Gordon Bunshaft and James Lord at various locations. In the end he decides that the site would have been best served by a single female figure standing six to eight metres in height. En route he writes the text on his copies after old masters to be published by Luigi Carluccio in 1967.
On 20 November the French state honours Giacometti with the Grand Prix National des Arts, and on 28 November he is in Bern, where the university awards him a doctorate honoris causa and the Swiss Federal President holds a banquet in his honour.
On 16 December in Zurich, after five years of negotiation and a month of rushed, last-minute efforts, the Alberto Giacometti Foundation featuring G. David Thompson’s Giacometti collection is established, to which the artist contributes three early sculptures, nine late paintings, and six drawings created for the occasion.
On December 1, at the urging of Annette and Diego, and various close friends, Giacometti visits a Paris doctor, who insists that he be hospitalized immediately. Giacometti consents, and selects the hospital in Chur. From 2 to 4. December Giacometti continues to work on busts of Elie Lotar and a painting of Caroline. On 5 December he leaves Paris on the night train and arrives in Chur on the morning of 6 December. Following a brief visit to his cousin, Renato Stampa, Giacometti is treated with oxygen for his obvious cardiac and circulatory disorders by the chief physician of the Cantonal Hospital, N.G. Markoff, and then subjected to further cancer testing. When the results come back negative he is filled with hope and forms the intention to return to Paris after recuperating. He adapts to hospital life, talks on the telephone with friends, and receives visits from his brothers, Annette and Caroline. Before Christmas, however, his condition has worsened, and on 10 January 1966 he requires a pleural tap. Giacometti loses his interest in work, and his will to live. The next day Diego arrives from Paris, and when Giacometti sees him and all of his loved ones, including Annette, Bruno, his wife Odette and Caroline assembled around him he realized his condition.
On 11 January 1966, at 10.10 pm, at the Cantonal Hospital in Chur, Alberto Giacometti succumbs to pericarditis aggravated by years of chronic bronchitis with bronchiectasia.
On 12 January Diego takes the night train to Paris, where he spends a day heating the icy-cold studio in the Rue Hippolyte-Maindron, thawing out the rags wrapped around the clay figure of Elie Lotar, and casting this last bust in plaster. He will erect the bronze cast, which he inherits, on his brother’s grave. On 15 January Giacometti lies in state in his studio in Stampa. His coffin is then borne through the frozen winter landscape by horse-drawn cart, followed by a long procession of mourners, to the cemetery in Borgonovo, his birthplace. In addition to his relatives, many others also attend his funeral, including the people of the Bregaglia valley, representatives of cantonal and federal Swiss authorities and the French government, friends from Switzerland and Paris, and museum directors and art dealers from all over the world, to pay him their last respects.
This chronology has been establish by Reinhold Hohl in his basic monograph on Giacometti (first published in 1971, pp. 226-287), enhanced with material from Lord’s comprehensive 1985 biography by Hohl in the 1987 Berlin catalogue and further enlarged by Christoph Doswald in the 1996 Vienna catalogue. Their most complete form is Reinhold Hohl, A Biography in Pictures (Ostfildern 1998).
The present, much abriged version is based on the exhibition catalogue Zurich 2001 (pp. 281-288), amended by corrections and precisions due to the recent publications by Véronique Wiesinger, using documents in the estate of the artist in the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti in Paris previously unavailable to scholars.
Alberto Giacometti, about 1962