Femme debout is an important, rare, little-published and little-exhibited sculpture by Alberto Giacometti, conceived in 1956, the year of his famous cycle of Femmes de Venise, and cast a few years later. It was presented as a gift by Giacometti himself to the Chiavenna-based philanthropist Professor Serafino Corbetta, a prominent doctor whose patients included the artist's mother Annetta in particular, as well as other members of the family. Corbetta was mainly based just across the Italian border from Giacometti's native Switzerland; a friend and a collector, he owned a range of Giacometti's works as well as others by primarily Italian artists including Giorgio de Chirico, Marino Marini, Giorgio Morandi and Mario Sironi. Corbetta, who sat for a portrait by Giacometti and was apparently photographed with him by Henri Cartier-Bresson, was given a number of works by the artist, including the plaster original which relates to Femme debout. This sculpture is numbered 1 of 2; the other numbered cast was in the Estate of Annette Giacometti, while there are also known to be four unnumbered casts in the edition of six.
Showing one of Giacometti's most recognised subjects, this sculpture of a standing woman condenses many of the concerns that the artist had regarding the depiction of reality. Looking at its turbulent surface, the viewer can appreciate the near-frenzied speed with which Giacometti must have worked the original sculpture from which this was cast. At the same time, the sculpture conveys that sense of distilled materiality that is so celebrated in his elongated figures. While the base of this figure appears massy, a heavy root anchoring the woman to the ground in opposition to his striding men, the waist tapers to an hourglass extreme, while the arms and fused legs create a vivid sense of verticality that highlights the notion that this is the essence of a woman, the existential core, an undeniable presence.
This emphasis on the vertical was famously the solution to an artistic crisis that Giacometti faced during the Second World War, during which he was unable to stop whittling away at his figures, paring them down to the barest minimum. This resulted in diminutive sculptures, some of which were so small that they fitted into matchboxes. Soon, a solution to Giacometti's inveterate, unstoppable paring away of material arrived in the form of a vision, an epiphany which brought about elongated, elegant figures such as Femme debout. They convey a sense of mass and also of mirage, shimmering before us, communicating both physical and psychological distance through their appearance. As Giacometti himself said of women, 'The nearer one gets, the more distant they are' (Giacometti, quoted in D. Sylvester, Looking at Giacometti, London, 1994, p. 30).
For a number of years, Giacometti had worked largely from memory in creating many of his sculpted figures. In 1953, he returned to the model. This confrontation with the visual presence and reality of his human subjects resulted in the abandonment of the near-filiform sculptural style that had earlier featured in some of Giacometti's works and led to the adoption of a certain curvaceous bulk, as is perhaps visible in Femme debout in the chest and waist areas. However, Giacometti did not work from models all the time, but continued to mine and seek inspiration in his memory as well. This remained the case in a number of his sculptures of men and women, which retain a universality that is heightened by their echoes of the kouros and kore of pre-Classical Greek sculpture - in which the men were also shown walking, the women standing.
The Femmes de Venise, which Giacometti created around the same time as Femme debout, were a case in point: this was a series of sculptures - in fact created from one model - around a metre tall, from which his brother Diego would take a cast at the end of each day. Some of these casts were immortalised either in plaster or in bronze, resulting in a series of variations; intriguingly, some were far taller than others, meaning that there was a range of scales among the figures, despite the fact that they were incarnations of the same original. Femme debout has been created on a more intimate scale than the Femmes de Venise, yet its appearance clearly reveals a connection with that celebrated sequence of female figures.
The theme of woman was long close to Giacometti's heart. He famously depicted few people in his paintings and sculptures, largely limiting himself to those in his immediate circle. While figures such as Elie Lotar, James Lord and Corbetta himself featured in his pictures here and there, his most frequent and favoured subjects were his brother Diego, his mother Annetta, and his wife Annette. He had met Annette Arm in 1943 when he was living in Switzerland during the Second World War. Shortly after the war ended, she moved to Paris, and they soon married. Annette would become his greatest muse, inspiring a range of works, whether she was posing for them or not. Her presence in Giacometti's life was fundamental to his development of the visual style which he achieved, which remains so idiosyncratic and powerful, and which suffuses Femme debout.
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Signed and numbered 'Alberto Giacometti 1/2' (on the side of the base)
Alberto Giacometti , 1950s, Sculptures, Statues & Figures, bronze, Switzerland, Modern, figures
Mendrisio, Museo d'Arte, Alberto Giacometti, Dialoghi con l'arte, September - November 2000, no. 117 (illustrated p. 180).
Valencia, Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno, El diálogo con la historia del arte, Alberto Giacometti, December 2000 - February 2001.
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
Height: 16 1/8 in. (41 cm.) Conceived in 1956 and cast circa 1961 in an edition of six
The Alberto and Annette Giacometti Foundation Database, no. 1696.
The Alberto and Annette Giacometti Association Database, no. S-2010-24.
Dr Serafino Corbetta, Chiavenna, a gift from the artist, and thence by descent.
Acquired from the above by the father of the present owner in 1978.
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.