Giacometti captures his fascination with the complexities of portraiture in this exquisite drawing of his wife Annette. Executed in 1954 in the artist’s storied studio on the rue Hippolyte-Maindron, this work depicts Annette seated frontally in an unassuming posture that belies the intensity of her stare. Giacometti endeavors to record the shifting perceptions that arise from evoking a human presence in this personal yet distanced depiction of his wife.
Giacometti met Annette Arm while living in Geneva after the Second World War. She accompanied the artist back to Paris in the summer of 1946, and they were soon married in July 1949. Annette left an indelible mark on Giacometti’s oeuvre as one of the artist’s foremost sources of inspiration, posing for him almost daily in the 1950s and until his death in 1966. While still in Switzerland, Giacometti introduced Annette to the philosopher Jean Starobinski, who remarked that “she was a young woman who stood ‘facing you,’ who watched, and spoke, and met life ‘head on,’ infinitely candid and infinitely reserved, in a wonderful frontality” (quoted in V. Wiesinger, The Women of Giacometti, exh. cat., PaceWildenstein Gallery, New York, 2005, p. 18). Annette—muse, model and wife—is featured prominently in Giacometti’s art in the early years of their marriage as the artist probed the technical limitations of art to capture the essence of the sitter.
The psychological power of this drawing lies in the tension between the intimate nature of this encounter and the imposed distance between artist and sitter. Giacometti breathes life into Annette through a dynamic use of line to articulate the sculptural quality of her figure against the recessive depth of the studio. For instance, a complex succession of curved lines delineate Annette’s arms and elbows, endowing the figure with a concrete sense of volume. “Everything is a sphere, a cone, or a cylinder—it’s true,” Giacometti would say (quoted in H. and M. Matter, Alberto Giacometti, 1987, p. 214). Annette’s face and eyes are the focus of the composition, as Giacometti seeks to translate his wife’s confrontational gaze. The artist simultaneously employs scale to create distance between model and viewer. While Annette commands attention from the center of the composition, she appears dwarfed by the height of the ceiling above her. This effect is accentuated by the drawn border in which she is framed, which calls attention to the inherently contrived nature of the act of drawing. Giacometti strives to convey the essence of his wife in this work while acknowledging the constructed nature of the artistic process.
(fig. 1) The artist painting Annette in 1954. Photo: Sabine Weiss.