Alberto Giacometti was born in 1901 in the town of Borgonovo, near Stampa, Switzerland. The son of the Post-Impressionist painter Giovanni Giacometti, the artist started drawing and painting at an early age, executing his first sculptures between 1913 and 1915. In 1922, he travelled to Paris to enrol at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, where he studied under the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle. In 1927, together with his brother and fellow artist, Diego, Giacometti moved to a studio at 46, rue Hippolyte-Maindron where he would remain until the end of his life.
Absorbing the avant-garde atmosphere of the 1920s, Giacometti came into contact with the Cubist work of sculptors including Jacques Lipchitz, Henri Laurens and Constantin Brancusi, as well as African and Oceanic art. These sources of inspiration enabled the artist to move away from naturalism and experiment with abstract and primordial forms. These early works attracted the attention of the Surrealists. In 1928, Giacometti’s Gazing Head caught the eye of André Masson and the ‘dissident’ group of Surrealists that had gathered around Georges Bataille. From this time onwards, Giacometti produced a number of arresting and enigmatic sculptures that explored universal themes of death, love and sex. Between 1930 and 1935 — the year that the self-styled surrealist leader André Breton expelled him from the group because his work was returning to representation — Giacometti stood as one of the most original and significant sculptors of Surrealism.
During the 1940s, Giacometti became a central figure within avant-garde Paris, friends with the leading artists and writers of the day, including Pablo Picasso, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. With the outbreak of the Second World War, he returned to his native Switzerland and spent the duration of the conflict in Geneva. He travelled back to Paris in 1946. Famously, he could fit everything he had created during the war years into a matchbox.
Capturing how the human figure existed within space lay at the heart of Giacometti’s artistic practice, both in the medium of sculpture as well as painting and drawing. From this time onwards, the scale of his sculpture increased as he began to create what are now his most iconic works: the elongated, attenuated and vigorously modelled male and female sculptures, including Man Pointing, Walking Man, Falling Man, Standing Woman, and later, the Women of Venice. Those closest to him, his wife, Annette, and brother, Diego, became his leading models as he relentlessly pursued his artistic vision.
In 1948, many of these works were shown in a breakthrough solo exhibition of the artist held at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York. He received the grand prize for sculpture at the 1962 Venice Biennale. In the penultimate year of his life, further shows of the then internationally-acclaimed artist were held at the Tate Gallery, London and The Museum of Modern Art, New York. This same year, he was awarded the Grand Prix National des Arts by the French government. Giacometti died on 11 January 1966, in Chur, Switzerland.