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    Sale 1995

    Impressionist And Modern Art Day Sale

    7 May 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 438

    Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)

    Petite tête de Marie-Laure de Moailles sur socle

    Price Realised  


    Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)
    Petite tête de Marie-Laure de Moailles sur socle
    signed and numbered 'A. GIACOMETTI 7/8' (on the left side of the base); inscribed with foundry mark 'L THINOT fdr PARIS' (on the back of the base)
    bronze with brown patina
    Height: 4¾ in. (12.1 cm.)
    Conceived circa 1946; this bronze version cast in 1973

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    The years immediately following the Second World War marked the
    development of Giacometti's mature style, as he moved away from the
    Surrealist experiments in which he had been engaged during the early
    1930s and focused on the haunting, attenuated figures which would
    occupy him for the majority of his career. Like many of his
    contemporaries, Giacometti fled the Paris studio he shared with his
    brother Diego in 1942 and spent the remainder of the war years in his
    native Switzerland. He returned to Paris in late 1945, eager to
    return to his pursuit of representational art based on study from

    By 1935, Giacometti had separated himself from the Surrealist movement following five years of intense involvement with André Masson, Max
    Ernst and Joan Miró. These avant-garde artists, along with the
    French writer Georges Bataille, had encouraged Giacometti to abandon
    the more primitivist, totemic style of sculpture on which he had
    focused during the late 1920s in favor of works which explored
    Freudian themes of sexuality, violence, and fantasy. Giacometti threw himself headlong into the movement, creating sculptures from varied
    and fragile materials such as plaster, glass, and string. Negative
    space played an essential role in the creation of these sculptures,
    which often conveyed disturbing themes of death (Femme à la gorge
    , 1932) and evocations of the artist's dreams (Palais à
    quatre heures du matin
    , 1933). The sculptor exhibited with the
    Surrealists throughout Europe and at New York's Museum of Modern Art
    in 1936, however an increased interest in representation of the human
    figure ultimately precipitated his departure from the group.

    The post-war years between Giacometti's separation from the Surrealists and his postwar return to Paris were marked by intermittent frustration as the sculptor struggled to capture the experience of perception, with a particular focus on the optical effects of distance. During his self-imposed exile, Giacometti experimented obsessively with the creation of tiny, matchstick-like plaster representations of the human form, chiseling blocks of plaster down to virtual nothingness. "There is no escape from matter," Yves Bonnefoy has written of this sculptor's incessant explorations, "nor from the three dimensional space with which it confronts the sculptor's ambition. If he should resort to trickery, trying to use matter against matter, by exploring the infinitely small...its laws would not yield, they would simply manifest themselves differently" (in Alberto Giacometti: A Biography of his Work, Paris, 1991, p. 278). Following years of experimentation in Switzerland, Giacometti returned to Paris in the fall of 1945 clutching matchboxes filled with the fruits of his labor.

    The plaster for the present work was conceived in Switzerland or immediately following Giacometti's return to his studio at 46, rue Hippolyte-Maindron, and in its scale demonstrates the artist's newfound fascination with the miniscule as well as the reductive chiseling methods with which he had experimented during the war. The subject, Marie-Laure de Noailles, was an eccentric Parisian Viscountess who was an influential patron of the avant-garde and of Giacometti himself. Noted for her friendships with Salvador Dalí, Man Ray, and a brief romance with Jean Cocteau, Viscountess de Noailles was a longtime champion of Giacometti's work, having commissioned him in 1930 to construct a large sculpture for her summer home on the Côte d'Azur.
    Of the tiny plasters and the few resultant bronzes of the mid-1940s, Bonnefoy has commented,

    For sculpture was just beginning, under his very eyes, to free itself from the domination of its materiality, which kept apart the components of Being, abandoning them in space. Art will reabsorb matter, as Giacometti would say, real likeness is possible at last. But it is also true that materiality and fragmentation have not yet entirely disappeared from the little statue: whence the temptation to get smaller and smaller, to plunge as deeply as possible into the abyss within which, like gold in the alembic, Being would emerge at last through the image (ibid., p. 276).


    Pierre Matisse, New York (acquired from the artist).
    By descent from the above to the present owner.

    Saleroom Notice

    Please note the revised provenance:

    Pierre Matisse, New York.
    By descent from the above by the present owner.

    Pre-Lot Text



    B. Lamarche-Vadel, Alberto Giacometti, Paris, 1984, p. 78, no. 112 (another cast illustrated).
    Y. Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, A Biography of His Work, Paris, 1991, p. 284, no. 258 (another cast illustrated; another cast illustrated in color, p. 271).
    A. Schneider, ed., Alberto Giacometti, Sculpture, Paintings, Drawings, New York, 1994, pl. 43 (another cast illustrated).
    The Alberto and Annette Giacometti Database, no. 775.