Alberto Giacometti in Paris in 1951. Photo: Leopold Museum. Alberto Giacometti in Paris in 1951. Photo: Leopold Museum.

Giacometti with his Walking Man, the two of them immortalized together in a famous photo taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1961 when the sculptor was either setting up or dismantling his exhibition at the Galerie Maeght in Paris.

Alberto Giacometti, Maeght Gallery, Paris, 1961 © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos Alberto Giacometti, Maeght Gallery, Paris, 1961 © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos

The Man is in the foreground, the man in the background. Shallow depth of field, along with the photographer’s movement, bring a grainy finish to the image of the two captured in the same pose, bent slightly forward.

Photo: knoll.com Photo: knoll.com

Training

Born in 1901 in the Swiss canton of Grisons, Alberto Giacometti, the eldest of four children, leaned towards an artistic career early on. Adopting the post-impressionist style of his father, a painter by profession, he executed his first family portraits at home before enrolling at the Fine Arts School of Geneva.

After his studies, he moved to Paris, a hive of creative activity at the time. He frequented the studio of sculptor Antoine Bourdelle in the Montparnasse district, rubbed against the angles of cubism and also the lines of primitive statues brought back from the colonies.

Photo: biography.com Photo: biography.com

These would inspire his first creations, shown at the Salon des Tuileries from 1927 onwards. But it was under the influence of the surrealists that Alberto, joined by his brother Diego, in his studio on Rue Hippolyte-Maindron, would develop his drawing and sculptural style, defining a stance long marked by doubt, anxiety, and reverie in response to the world’s violence.

He officially adhered to André Breton’s Parisian surrealist group in 1931, brushing shoulders with the likes of Joan Miró, Jean Arp, Michel Leiris, Salvador Dali, and Tristan Tzara. He also flirted with symbolism and started addressing issues of scale through the production of miniature spindly works that foreshadowed Walking Man, the most famous of his sculptures, whose first version came into being at the end of the 1940s.

Alberto Giacometti’s "Diego" (1959). Foto: Tate Museum. Alberto Giacometti’s "Diego" (1959). Foto: Tate Museum.

Follow that Man

There are in fact three versions of the Walking Man, differing in size and degree of inclination. The first two Men were cast in bronze, respectively in ten and nine copies, shown in American and European museums or else conserved by private collectors.

Walking Man III, on the other hand, was never cast. Walking Man I went under the hammer at Sotheby’s London in 2010 for 65 million British pounds (103 million dollars) before this record was shattered by the sale of another Giacometti sculpture, Man Pointing, in 2015 at Christie’s New York, for over 141 million dollars.

Alberto Giacometti's "L’Homme qui marche I" (1960). Foto: Sotheby’s. Alberto Giacometti's "L’Homme qui marche I" (1960). Foto: Sotheby’s.

Turning point

Excluded from the surrealist group in 1935 even if he would not renounce its input and the artistic friendships he had formed there, Giacometti started making a series of heads, namely using his brother as a model.

In 1941, he left war-struck Paris for Geneva, where he continued his work on scale and miniatures, while also nurturing the desire to create a monumental work. This would turn out to be Woman with Chariot, announcing the artist’s research into the space of representation immediately after the war and until his death in 1966.

Women with chariot, Photo: MoMa Women with chariot, Photo: MoMa

Recognition

In 1945, the sculptor returned to Paris, where he soon married Annette Arm, a Red Cross worker that he met in Switzerland during the war, and who would become his regular model.

He declined André Breton’s call for him to rekindle ties with the surrealist movement. At the same time, his assertion of his new style won him fans, in particular, Pierre Matisse, an art dealer (and the son of the famous painter) who would contribute significantly to Giacometti’s renown in the United States via his New York gallery.

Drawing by Giacometti. Photo: Catawiki. Drawing by Giacometti. Photo: Catawiki.

Thanks to Matisse, the sculptor managed to cast his creations in bronze again, and to produce several major works for exhibitions on the other side of the Atlantic, first in 1948, then again just two years later.

In 1951, the Galerie Maeght, a gallery dear to the surrealists, hosted Giacometti’s first solo exhibition in France since the world war. It met with success once again, and the artist would return there to present his work several times over the decade, acclaimed by writers Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Leiris and Francis Ponge.

"L'Homme au doigt" (1947). Foto: Tate Museum. "L'Homme au doigt" (1947). Foto: Tate Museum.

Giacometti represented France at the Venice Biennale in 1956 with a series of female figures that marked the culmination of his research into representation and movement. Six years later, he returned to Venice to receive the Biennale’s grand prize for sculpture, after already picking up the Carnegie Award and before carrying off the Guggenheim Award, in 1964.

Posterity

When he died – without any descendants –, Alberto Giacometti was a fulfilled artist, respected all over the world as one of the greatest twentieth-century sculptors.

Giacometti's "The Palace at 4 a.m." (1932). Photo: MoMA. Giacometti's "The Palace at 4 a.m." (1932). Photo: MoMA.

His wife, until her death in 1993, would strive to develop the Foundation Giacometti (in France, recognized as an organization promoting the public interest in 2003), for which Alberto laid down the groundwork in Switzerland in the early 1960s.

At the Foundation's initiative, a Giacometti institute is scheduled to open in 2018 in the Montparnasse district. The artist is buried in Borgonovo, his natal village in Grisons. But the Man continues to walk.

Want to see more works of Giacometti sold at auction? Here you can see more!

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