Alberto Giacometti (Italian pronunciation: [alˈbɛrto dʒakoˈmetti]; 10 October 1901 – 11 January 1966) was a Swiss sculptor, painter, draftsman and printmaker. Beginning in 1922, he lived and worked mainly in Paris but regularly visited his hometown Borgonovo to see his family and work on his art.
Giacometti was one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century. His work was particularly influenced by artistic styles such as Cubism and Surrealism. Philosophical questions about the human condition, as well as existential and phenomenological debates played a significant role in his work. Around 1935 he gave up on his Surrealistic influences in order to pursue a more deepened analysis of figurative compositions. Giacometti wrote texts for periodicals and exhibition catalogues and recorded his thoughts and memories in notebooks and diaries. His self-critical nature led to great doubts about his work and his ability to do justice to his own artistic ideas but acted as a great motivating force.
Between 1938 and 1944 Giacometti's sculptures had a maximum height of seven centimeters (2.75 inches). Their small size reflected the actual distance between the artist's position and his model. In this context he self-critically stated: "But wanting to create from memory what I had seen, to my terror the sculptures became smaller and smaller". After the war, Giacometti created his most famous sculptures: his extremely tall and slender figurines. These sculptures were subject to his individual viewing experience—between an imaginary yet real, a tangible yet inaccessible space.
In Giacometti's whole body of work, his painting constitute only a small part. After 1957, however, his figurative paintings were equally as present as his sculptures. His almost monochromatic paintings of his late work do not refer to any other artistic styles of modernity.
Giacometti was born in Borgonovo, Switzerland, in the canton Graubünden's southerly alpine valley Val Bregaglia near the Italian border, as the eldest of four children to Giovanni Giacometti, a well-known post-Impressionist painter and Annetta Giacometti-Stampa. He was a descendant of Protestant refugees escaping the inquisition. Coming from an artistic background, he was interested in art from an early age. Alberto attended the Geneva School of Fine Arts. His brothers Diego (1902–1985) and Bruno (1907–2012) would go on to become artists as well. Additionally, Zaccaria Giacometti, later professor of constitutional law and chancellor of the University of Zurich, grew up together with them, having been orphaned at the age of 12 in 1905.
In 1922, he moved to Paris to study under the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, an associate of Rodin. It was there that Giacometti experimented with Cubism and Surrealism and came to be regarded as one of the leading Surrealist sculptors. Among his associates were Miró, Max Ernst, Picasso, Bror Hjorth, and Balthus.
Between 1936 and 1940, Giacometti concentrated his sculpting on the human head, focusing on the sitter's gaze. He preferred models he was close to—his sister and the artist Isabel Rawsthorne (then known as Isabel Delmer). This was followed by a phase in which his statues of Isabel became stretched out; her limbs elongated. Obsessed with creating his sculptures exactly as he envisioned through his unique view of reality, he 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". After his marriage to Annette Arm in 1946 his tiny sculptures became larger, but the larger they grew, the thinner they became.
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