Audio: Alberto Giacometti, Diego en chemise écossaise
Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)
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Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)

Diego en chemise écossaise

Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)
Diego en chemise écossaise
signed and dated 'Alberto Giacometti 1954' (lower right)
oil on canvas
31 7/8 x 25½ in. (81.1 x 64.9 cm.)
Painted in 1954
M. and Mme Aimé Maeght, Paris (acquired from the artist, by 1955).
M. and Mme Adrien Maeght, Paris (by descent from the above).
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1992.
Derrière le miroir, no. 65, 1954 (illustrated).
J. Dupin, Alberto Giacometti, Paris, 1962, p. 135 (illustrated in color).
J. Grenier, "Alberto Giacometti vu par Sartre" in Cahiers du Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, no. 9, May 1982, p. 32, no. 3 (illustrated).
B. Lamarche-Vadel, Alberto Giacometti, Paris, 1984, p. 97, no. 137 (illustrated in color).
A. Liberman, The Artist in His Studio, New York, 1988, p. 70, no. 126 (illustrated in color).
Y. Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti: A Biography of His Work, Paris, 1991, p. 420, no. 402 (illustrated in color, p. 422).
J. Dupin, Giacometti: Three Essays, New York, 2003, p. 23 (illustrated, p. 22).
The Alberto Giacometti Database, no. 2799.
The Alberto and Annette Giacometti Association Database, no. P-2013-4.
London, Arts Council Gallery, Alberto Giacometti: Sculpture, Paintings, Drawings, June-July 1955, no. 47 (illustrated, pl. V).
Kunsthalle Bern, Alberto Giacometti, June-July 1956, no. 63.
Venice, XXXI Esposizione Biennale Internazionale d'Arte, June-October 1962, p. 111, no. 10.
Kunsthaus Zürich, Alberto Giacometti, December 1962-January 1963, no. 129.
Paris, Musée de l'Orangerie des Tuileries, Alberto Giacometti, October 1969-January 1970, p. 156, no. 159 (illustrated, p. 108).
Brussels, Musée d'Ixelles, La Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght, January-March 1975, no. 37 (illustrated; with inverted dimensions and dated 1950).
Humblebaek, Louisiana Museum for Moderne Kunst, Fondation Maeght pa Louisiana, Alberto Giacometti: skulpturer, malerier, tegninger, litografier, August-October 1976, no. 1.
Madrid, Fundación Juan March, Giacometti: Colleción de la Fundación Maeght, October-December 1976, no. 38 (illustrated in color; dated 1950).
Helsinki, Amos Andersonin taidemuseo, Alberto Giacometti, December 1976-January 1977, p. 132, no. 23.
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Alberto Giacometti, February-March 1977, no. 1 (illustrated in color; dated 1950).
Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, Alberto Giacometti, July-September 1978, p. 195, no. 149 (illustrated in color, p. 132).
Dallas Museum of Fine Arts and Museo de Monterrey, Giacometti, September 1979-March 1980.
Zürich, Galerie Maeght, Alberto Giacometti: Skulpturen, Bilder, Zeichnungen, 1980, no. 31.
Saint-Etienne, Musée d'Art et d'Industrie, Alberto Giacometti, July-September 1981, p. 26, no. 17 (illustrated, p. 23).
Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester; City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery and London, Serpentine Gallery, Giacometti: Sculptures, Paintings, Drawings, January-May 1981, p. 78, no. 51.
Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, L'univers d'Aimé et Marguerite Maeght, July-October 1982, p. 264, no. 68 (illustrated in color, p. 105).
The Hague, Haags Gemeentemuseum, Alberto Giacometti: Beelden, Schilderijen, Tekeningen, Grafiek, March-May 1986, p. 118, no. 39 (illustrated in color, p. 112).
Martigny, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Alberto Giacometti, May-November 1986, p. 273, no. 132 (illustrated; illustrated again in color, p. 122).
Washington, D.C., The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Alberto Giacometti, September 1988-February 1989, p. 184, no. 72 (illustrated in color, p. 185).
Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris, Alberto Giacometti: sculptures, peintures, dessins, November 1991-March 1992, pp. 294 and 461, no. 198 (illustrated in color, p. 295).
Andros, Fondation Basil et Elise Goulandris, Alberto Giacometti: sculptures, peintures, dessins, June-September 1992, p. 197, no. 62 (illustrated in color, p. 112; titled Diego à la chemise rouge).
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Inc., Alberto Giacometti, October-December 1994, p. 114, no. 45 (illustrated in color, p. 75).
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Alberto Giacometti, June-October 1998, no. 64 (illustrated in color on the back cover).
Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Face to Face to Cyberspace, May-September 1999, p. 121, no. 41 (illustrated in color, p. 81).
Kunsthaus Zürich and New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Alberto Giacometti, May 2001-January 2002, p. 278, no. 144 (illustrated in color, p. 207).
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Cézanne and Beyond, February-May 2009, pp. 381 and 538 (illustrated in color, p. 380, pl. 133).
Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, Giacometti & Maeght, 1946-1966, June-October 2010, p. 179, no. 79 (illustrated in color, p. 115).
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Sale room notice
Please note that this work is registered in the Alberto Giacometti Database under the no. 2799.

Please note that this work is registered in the Alberto and Annette Giacometti Association Database under the no. P-2013-4.

Please note the additional exhibition information:
Kunsthaus Zürich, Alberto Giacometti, December 1962-January 1963, no. 129.
Humblebaek, Louisiana Museum for Moderne Kunst, Fondation Maeght pa Louisiana, Alberto Giacometti: skulpturer, malerier, tegninger, litografier, August-October 1976, no. 1.
Andros, Fondation Basil et Elise Goulandris, Alberto Giacometti: sculptures, peintures, dessins, June-September 1992, p. 197, no. 62 (illustrated in color, p. 112; titled Diego à la chemise rouge).

Lot Essay

From the earliest days of his career as an artist Alberto Giacometti had concentrated on all three forms of artistic expression, namely painting, drawing and sculpture, without ascribing to any of them a hierarchy of importance. Often we think of Picasso as a painter who was a talented sculptor and in the same way it is easy to fall into the trap of considering Giacometti as a sculptor who also painted but neither appreciation of either artist does justice to their immense and varied artistic sensibilities. Giacometti, every bit as much as Michelangelo before him, was not only a magnificent sculptor but also one of the greatest painters of his generation. Amongst his contemporaries the formal and traditional qualities of Giacometti's painting was sometimes unfavorably contrasted with the spare modernity of his sculptural work. It was felt that the sitter or model isolated in front of the painter was too classical or academic but in fact these formal qualities of composition manifest the same distilled spareness of subject matter that Giacometti presented in his sculpture. His painting and his sculpture are inextricably entwined not only in their conceptual composition but also in their subject matter as is demonstrated by the fact that Diego, his younger brother, was the most consistently recurring model in both mediums.

The American writer James Lord was also painted by Giacometti (fig. 1) and he has left to posterity an illuminating account of the painter's creative process:

"He began to paint, holding his long, fine brush by the end and almost at arm's length, dipping it first into the dish of turpentine, touching it to one of the blobs of paint on his palette, and then moving it over the canvas. He painted only with black at first. As he worked he looked at me constantly and also at everything around me. What he was painting obviously included his entire field of vision. He never made more than four or five strokes of the brush without looking at me, and now and then he would lean back from the canvas, squinting through his glasses, to study it for a moment. As he worked he lit cigarettes often, holding them in his left hand which also held his palette and his brushes, taking a puff only occasionally, finally dropping the butts on the floor" (J. Lord, A Giacometti Portrait, New York, 1965, p. 7).

Lord later continues:

"The following day was the ninth on which I had posed. I was beginning to be able to determine what Giacometti was doing while he worked by observing the way in which he used the different brushes and by watching which colors he used and when. Although he always held a bunch of about eight or nine brushes, he never used more than three: two fine ones with long thin, supple tips of sable hair and one larger one with a much thicker, shorter, and stiffer tip. One of the two fine brushes was used with black to 'construct' the head, building it up gradually by means of many small strokes on top of each other. After working for a time in this way he would dip the brush into his dish of turpentine and squeeze the tip between his fingers. Then he would begin to work with the same brush again but using white or gray pigment. From this I deducted that he was beginning to develop the contours and volume of the head and to add highlights. Before long he would take the other fine brush and begin to work over what he had already painted but using white pigment only... Then, after a time, the large brush would be brought into play, handled in a much more free and sweeping way than the fine ones. It served to form the space behind and around the head, to develop the contour of shoulder and arms, and finally to complete the process of 'disintegration' by painting out details. Then, with the first of the fine brushes he would begin again with more black pigment, to try to draw from the void, as it were, some semblance of what he saw before him. So it went on, over and over again" (ibid., pp. 31-32).

Jacques Dupin echoes James Lord's view that somehow Giacometti made his portraits emerge from the void writing that "Line did not so much define the forms as summon them to make themselves manifest by multiplying themselves within the outline" (quoted in B. Lamarche-Vadel, op. cit., p. 94).

The sitters in Giacometti's portraits are almost always presented to the viewer with the barest of anecdotal surroundings. David Sylvester writing of the portraits says "The world presented in Giacometti's paintings rarely extends beyond the walls of the room that is very evidently a studio. The figures in it are never engaged in activities of their own at which they are caught unawares, but are posed facing the beholder, posed so that they can be clearly seen" (D. Sylvester, Looking at Giacometti, New York, 1996, p. 19). The subject, in this case Diego, sits impassively in the space given to him by the artist. The positioning tells us nothing of the sitter as the accoutrements of the studio are barely hinted at in the background. In the present work one can perhaps decipher a sculptured head on a shelf to the right of the sitter and Diego appears to be framed by what might be a large canvas on an easel behind him with the hint of the easel's upright emerging from above the top edge of the canvas. It is almost as if Giacometti is subtracting from the surface of his own canvas by framing Diego within the outlines of another canvas in the studio and thereby creating a sort of psychological distance between the viewer and the subject where Diego has become a painting within a painting. Sylvester analyzed this process stressing its importance in Alberto's work "This flat border, in the first place, helps to affirm the reality of the picture surface, and it is needed to do this because the image itself tends to dissolve the picture plane away. But the border serves, above all, to intensify the sense of distance within the image" (ibid., p. 26).

Valerie Fletcher writing in The Studio of Alberto Giacometti in 2007 develops the theme of the multiple borders in Giacometti's work. "Giacometti usually painted a linear frame around the subject of each painting, after the motif was established, to determine the final proportion of the figure to its environment. By painting a frame around the picture he controlled the effect of what might be termed 'being in space.' The framing device separates the illusion of pictorial space in depth from the reality of the canvas' flat surface, as if to acknowledge the renaissance definition of painting as a 'window' into an imaginary place. The framing device creates a subliminal tension between illusion and reality, or rather between Giacometti's reality and the canvas' reality" (V.J. Fletcher in The Studio of Alberto Giacometti, exh. cat., Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 2007, pp. 187-188). From the multiplicity of internal framing devices which create an almost paradoxical sense of space the artist is able to bring forth his subject. The background pushes the sitter forward towards the viewer enabling Giacometti to concentrate his energies on the subject he is presenting. He describes his own manner of developing the features of his sitters. "What interests me most is to create the curve of the eye. If I can capture the curve of the eye, I will also have the orbit. If I have the orbit I have the root of the nose, I have the point of the nose, I have the holes of the nose, I have the mouth. Therefore the whole will have a way of looking without one fixing on the eye itself" (quoted in B. Lamarche-Vadel, op. cit., p. 86). In the work of the 1950s Giacometti paid greater attention to the framing of his backgrounds. This can be seen from as early as the 1940s in the portraits he painted of his mother in La Stampa through the studio portraits of Annette and Diego. In the late 1950s, however, the artist found himself confronted by an impasse as he struggled with the many versions of the portrait of Isaku Yanaihara. Eventually he came to dispense entirely with the background allowing his subjects almost to float in an indeterminate world.

The present work which was executed in 1954 is, perhaps, one of the most fully worked and deeply realized of all Giacometti's portraits. He knew Diego intimately; he knew him almost as well as he knew himself. He already captured him many times on canvas and he would continue to do so until the very end of his life but never before or after did Alberto paint Diego with quite the same energy or fervor as he did in the present work. The surface of the painting is deeply rich in texture showing how Alberto compulsively worked and re-worked his material. Moreover, the essentially monochromatic palette of blacks and grays and whites has been significantly enhanced in this portrait of Diego wearing a tartan shirt. The red pattern of the plaid not only allows Alberto to enrich the painting with the use of ochre and russet red but also the very nature of the interwoven material of the shirt allows for a whole new level of complex brushwork to render the surface of the painting even more highly charged. Giacometti was famously no colorist but the spare and textured use of ochre in Diego en chemise écossaise raises this portrait to a level of complexity rarely seen in the artist's oeuvre.

Color was not deliberately eliminated from Giacometti's paintings although it does, however, play a subsidiary role to line. As Jacques Dupin has observed "Giacometti's paintings are painted less with colors than with lines and his palette is as restricted as his subjects. A range of grays and ochres; black, white and gray lines are apparently sufficient. But within this dominant tone, where all the nuances and transparencies of gray echo each other, appear colors, rare and scarcely exuberant ones, discreet and refined, drawing a sure power from their very restraint, from the rightness of their pitch or their place...Giacometti re-sensitizes colors and gives them back their subtlety and acuteness" (J. Dupin, op. cit., 2003, pp. 72-73). In fact Giacometti never used the restrained dynamism of his color to better effect than in the present work.

Diego was Alberto's ultimate subject whether he was realized in bronze or in paint. It was almost as if Diego served Alberto as his alter ego; as if the many portraits he executed of his brother were in some sense attempts at self-portraiture which the artist lacked the courage fully to explore or perhaps he simply did not dare look over the abyss into the heart of himself. As David Sylvester, who knew the artist well and famously sat for him in 1960, wrote, "Giacometti's work lays naked the despair known to every artist who has tried to copy what he sees. At the same time it is an affirmation that there is a hard core which remains from all that has been seen and that this can be stabilized, this can be saved, this can be rendered indestructible" (Looking at Giacometti, New York, 1996, p. 36).

The final word on this outstanding painting can perhaps be best expressed by quoting from Peter Selz in his introduction to the catalogue of the Museum of Modern Art Giacometti exhibition held in 1965 shortly before the artist's death. "These grisaille paintings with their restrained colors seem out of place in a time when our sensibilities are constantly blunted by the brilliance of fresh and garish colors. But colors, Giacometti feels, adhere to surfaces, and his problem--the problem of the sculptor as painter--is to grasp the totality of the image in space. His linear paintings...testify to a great artist's struggle to find an equivalent for the human phenomenon" (P. Selz, intro., Alberto Giacometti, New York, 1965, p. 11).

Alberto Giacometti painting in his studio, before 1963. Photograph by David Kronig.

(fig. 1) Alberto Giacometti, James Lord, 1964. Private collection.
(fig. 2) Alberto Giacometti, Portrait de David Sylvester, 1960. Private collection.

(fig. 3) Alberto Giacometti, Portrait d'Annette, 1951. Fondation Alberto Giacometti, Zürich.

(fig. 4) Alberto Giacometti, Jean Genet, 1955. Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

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