Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)
Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)

Figurine au grand socle

Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)
Figurine au grand socle
signed and numbered 'Alberto Giacometti 3/6' (on the top of the base); inscribed with the foundry mark 'Susse Fondeur Paris' (on the back of the base)
bronze with golden brown patina
Height: 15 1/4 in. (38.7 cm.)
Conceived circa 1955
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York (no. 8400).
Hanover Gallery, London, by 1962.
Acquired by the family of the present owner in the early 1960s.
The Alberto and Annette Giacometti Foundation Database, no. 2936.
The Alberto and Annette Giacometti Association Database, no. S-2014-6.
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, XXth Century Artists, October - November 1960, no. 30.
London, Hanover Gallery, Sculpture, July - September 1962, no. 22.
Zurich, Gimpel & Hanover Galerie, November 1962 - January 1963.
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Alberto Giacometti, December 1962 - January 1963, no. 53.
The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (on loan from the present owner, 1996-2014).

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Antoine Lebouteiller
Antoine Lebouteiller

Lot Essay

Hovering in the air like a floating apparition, perched on thin legs, arms pressed tightly to her side, far more slender in profile than when viewed frontally, Figurine au grand socle is a reminder of the unprecedented attenuated figures that Giacometti began to create following his return to Paris soon after the end of the Second World War. At that time he resolved that the miniscule figures that he had been making for the previous five years must get no smaller. They then suddenly began to spring up in height, and as Giacometti modelled them, compacting the plaster ever more closely to the wire armatures, these sculptures became excruciatingly thin. These works became the iconic elongated sculptures in Giacometti’s visionary, weightless style, for which he became internationally famous following his 1948 solo exhibition, his first in almost fifteen years, at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York.

Among the closely related antecedents of Figurine au grand socle are several of the extremely thin women who comprise the multi-figure La Clairière and La Forêt, 1950. It was around this time that Giacometti began to rethink his approach to the human figure in his sculpture; he then became more interested in creating heads and busts of his wife Annette, his brother Diego and a few friends, each with a more weighty volumetric presence, real figures as he perceived them inhabiting the space before him. He continued to model standing women, but they too put on more flesh, developing heavier breasts, bulging abdomens and broader hips. Giacometti executed several of the earliest extant Femmes de Venise in this manner. Before long, however, within this very series, a seemingly inevitable process again took hold, in which the women grew thinner once more, as if the sculptor were caught up in an unrelenting cycle of give and take, addition and subtraction, building up and breaking down. The present figurine, with her full, unloosened hair reaching her shoulders, and clenched ramrod silhouette, anticipates in its tabletop scale several of the larger Femmes de Venise, specifically numbers VII, VIII and IX. Figurine au grand socle moreover displays the outsize feet which characterize each of the Venetian women, and is notable for the large, elevated base on which this woman stands, which is certainly larger than required, but lends aesthetic balance and substantive weight to her presence, while providing a protective space around her.

While visiting Giacometti’s Paris studio in 1955, James Thrall Soby, the director of The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, hoped to view a large standing woman he had heard the sculptor had in progress.

‘It lay in crumbled fragments of plaster on the floor,’ Soby later recalled, ‘and Giacometti explained calmly that he had destroyed it in a moment of impatience with some minor detail... ‘I am used to beginning again,’ he said quietly. And all the time we were talking he kept returning to a small clay figure, modeling it with such deft pressure from his extraordinary fingers and giving the impression that if he let it alone, it would soon expire for lack of breath. Even when he stopped working long enough to bring out some of his latest paintings and to blow from them clouds of plaster dust, he looked back at the sculpture anxiously’ (quoted in R. Hohl, Giacometti: A Biography in Pictures, Osfildern-Ruit, 1998, p. 150).

We do not know if this small clay figure survived; for each sculpture that Giacometti preserved, he destroyed countless others. Many of the small and mid-sized plasters that catch our eye in photographs of Giacometti’s studio do not exist today: some were further transformed, while others fell victim to the sculptor’s harshly self-critical attitude regarding any work he had brought to a precarious, uncertain state of finality. The present work fortunately survived this existential ordeal, making its way to the New York dealer Sidney Janis, who had been including Giacometti in his group shows (by arrangement with Pierre Matisse, whom Giacometti had made his sole agent in the United States) since early 1950.

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