Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED NEW YORK COLLECTION
Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)

La clairière

Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)
La clairière
signed, numbered and stamped with the foundry mark 'Alberto Giacometti E.A. Susse Fondeur Paris' (on the back of the base)
bronze with brown patina
Height: 22½ in. (57.1 cm.);
Width: 25¾ in. (65.4 cm.);
Depth: 20½ in. (52 cm.)
Conceived in 1950; this version cast in 1982
Annette Giacometti; her estate sale, Ader Tajan, Paris, 11 July 1994, lot 14.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
P. Bucarelli, Alberto Giacometti, Rome, 1962, no. 43, p. 77 (another cast illustrated; titled 'Composizione con nove figure').
J. Dupin & M. Leiris, Alberto Giacometti, Paris, 1978, p. 90 (another cast illustrated).
J. Lord, Giacometti, A Biography, New York, 1985, p. 308.
B. Lamarche-Vadel, Alberto Giacometti, Paris, 1984, no. 188, pp. 130 & 132 (another cast illustrated p. 134).
C. Juliet, Giacometti, Paris, 1983, p. 72 (another cast illustrated).
R. Hohl, Alberto Giacometti, Stuttgart, 1987, p. 140 (another cast illustrated p. 125).
Y. Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, A Biography of His Work, Paris, 1991, no. 323, p. 349 (another cast illustrated p. 350; titled 'The Glade').
G. Soavi & P. Knapp, Giacometti, la ressemblance impossible, Paris, pp. 112 & 113 (another cast illustrated).
The Alberto and Annette Giacometti Foundation database no. 2234.
The Alberto and Annette Giacometti Association database no. S-2012-11.
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.
Sale room notice
Please note the additional literature reference for this work:
The Alberto and Annette Giacometti Association database no. S-2012-11.

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Adrienne Everwijn-Dumas
Adrienne Everwijn-Dumas

Lot Essay

La clairière is one of Alberto Giacometti's rare multi-figure compositions. Originally conceived in 1950, La clairière (often referred to as Glade) is all the more rare as casts of composition have very seldom appeared on the market: apparently, only three examples have featured at auction in the last two decades. Casts of La clairière feature in several prestigious museum collections throughout the world.

The artist's biographer James Lord said of the period in which La clairière was originally conceived that, 'The years 1949 and 1950 were anni mirabiles for Giacometti, wonderful in the wealth, diversity, and mastery of works produced. One after another, the most extraordinary productions emerged from his studio' (J. Lord, Giacometti: A Biography, New York, 1985, p. 303). La clairière belongs to this number: it is one of the most complex of Giacometti's multi-figure compositions, comprising a base upon which nine elongated women stand, some of them on bases, almost all in deliberately discordant scales. This, then, marks a significant break from earlier works such as La place, in which the city square was evoked by the striding men and the standing woman, all on a similar scale. In La clairière, the different sizes of the women are in fact evidence of the story that lies behind the creation of this sculpture. Giacometti himself explained its origins to his New York-based dealer Pierre Matisse on the occasion of his second one-man show in the United States. That exhibition, in which all sixteen sculptures exhibited were sold, took place at the end of 1950 and featured a cast of La clairière, whose genesis he discussed thus:
'In March and April of this year, I sketched out, every day, three figures. I also sketched out some heads. I stopped before I had quite arrived at what I was looking for. Yet I couldn't destroy those little sketches. They were still there, standing upright, and I didn't want to leave them on their own, lost in space.
'I began by making a composition with three figures and a head. I made it almost in spite of myself (or, rather, it made itself before I thought of it). Almost immediately, I wanted to do something less rigid with them. But what? I couldn't decide.
'A few days later, I cleared the table and laid the figures down on the floor, at random. They formed two groups that seemed to correspond to what I was looking for. I set up the two groups on platforms, leaving them just as they were, and I worked on them, leaving both their positions and their dimensions unchanged.
'To my amazement, the one with nine figures reminded me of a clearing - like a meadow grown wild, with trees and shrubs on the edge of a forest - which had always fascinated me' (Giacometti, letter to Pierre Matisse, 5 January 1951, quoted in J. Russell, Matisse: Father and Son, New York, 1999, p. 168).

For Giacometti, it was the chance placement of these sculptures on the floor which led him to rediscover them, to recognise something in them and in the hazard-driven relationship that they had generated through their juxtapositions. Embracing chance, that sacred randomness so beloved of the Surrealists with whom Giacometti himself had been associated before the Second World War, he was able to look at these sculptural 'sketches' anew, creating in him a moment of both revelation and recognition. Accordingly, he and his brother Diego, his great technical ally in the studio, fixed the nine sculptures of women in their original places, immortalising the composition and thus exploring the frisson that existed between them and which had had such a profound effect on the artist himself.

It is important to note, in this light, that La clairière was created at a time when the elongated figures which have since become so inextricably linked to Giacometti and which are now so iconic were still a relatively new development in his work at this point. It was only in the years just after the Second World War that Giacometti developed his filiform human sculptures in response to a crisis that had earlier struck in his works. For during the previous years, in his search for the elemental and the true in his depictions of his fellow humans, he had found himself whittling his figures away to almost nothing, resulting in sculptures that fitted in matchboxes. It was only in the years after his return to Paris that a series of epiphanies allowed him to appreciate space and appearance in a new manner, which itself would suggest the mirage-like, shimmering stick figures present in La clairière. Here, the women, depicted as static as opposed to his striding men, are vertical shards of material. They are emphatic in their textured appearance, their substantiality pushed to the fore; and yet they are thin, appearing in part to melt away within the surrounding space. Giacometti hoped to convey the experience of seeing someone - it was in part for this reason that his heads were often depicted so small, as he was presenting them as though they were far away. That distance in itself is psychological. It reflects his own relationships with people, his own desires, his own isolation. As he explained:

'If I look at a woman on the opposite pavement and I see her very small, I marvel at that little figure walking in space, and then, seeing her still smaller, my field of vision becomes larger. I see a vast space above and around, which is almost limitless... And if the person comes nearer, I stop looking at her, but she almost stops existing, too. Or else one's emotions become involved: I want to touch her, don't I? Looking has lost all interest' (Giacometti, quoted in D. Sylvester, Looking at Giacometti, London, 1994, p. 213).

This aspect of his sculptural representation of women appears all the more intriguing when contemplating La clairière, a work conceived in 1950, as this was only a year after Giacometti had surprised many of his friends and acquaintances by marrying Annette Arms, who was twenty-two years his junior. Like his brother Diego, Annette was to become one of Giacometti's most frequent models during the rest of his career, posing for or inspiring a range of drawings, paintings and sculptures, among them some of the artist's most recognised works.

In one of his letters to Pierre Matisse, Giacometti explained that La clairière had recalled a clearing that he had hoped to paint the previous spring (see A. Giacometti, Écrits: Articles, notes et entretiens, Paris, 2007, p. 95). This was a chance association, one which came to the artist after he had realised the power of the composition that chance had led him to create. Elsewhere, discussing a related work from the same period, La for<->et, Giacometti would say that the trees that he recalled were hugely evocative for him: 'The trees were tall, with slender, high-reaching trunks that had no branches until almost at the top... They always seemed to me like people who were out for a walk and had stopped to talk among themselves' (Giacometti, quoted in Russell, op. cit., 1999, p. 168). Here, that association has come full circle, and the trees of the glade have become static, standing women. This connection with nature hints at an almost Surrealistic interest in the subconscious, in the way that the mind intereprets what it sees. At the same time, it implies that La for<->et and La clairière are among the only sculptures that Giacometti created that approach a sense of landscape.
That landscape is implied by the base itself, which recalls the iconic sculptures that Giacometti created during this incredible period of his career. The base is an arena in which these figures stand; the different scales lend it a sense of pseudo-perspectival depth, as the figures, be they nearer or farther from the viewer, nonetheless have an implied distance through their different sizes. They jostle together, yet the incongruous discrepancies in scale reiterate Giacometti's own sense of revelation as he appreciated anew the spaces around each element. As a forum for this exploration of scale and presence, the base adds a unifying element. This was something that Giacometti had already explored in earlier sculptural compositions such as On ne joue plus of 1932, a boardgame-like sculpture with small emblematic figures that is in the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC; it returned in a more forceful manner in Trois homes qui marchent and La place of 1948; indeed, during the same year that La clairière was conceived, a cast of La place was acquired by the Kunstmuseum, Basel, an indication of their popularity and impact. Unlike those works, though, the scattered figures in La clairière are hauntingly static, recalling the trees of the glade after which it has come to be known. Intriguingly, despite the incredible success of his multi-figure compositions, after 1950 Giacometti only attempted two, one of which was for a monumental commission from Chase Manhattan; he abandoned both projects, meaning that works such as La clairière are all the rarer as marking the culminatory point of these explorations of the connections between the people the artist so poignantly captured with his elegant, gnarled and elemental figures.

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