Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)
These lots have been imported from outside the EU … Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE SWISS COLLECTION
Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)

Tête de Diego sur socle

Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)
Tête de Diego sur socle
signed 'Alberto Giac' (on the right side of the base); numbered and stamped with the foundry mark '2/6 M. PASTORI CIRE PERDUE' (on the back of the base)
bronze with dark brown patina
Height: 14 5/8 in. (37.1 cm.)
Conceived circa 1955 and cast in 1960
Acquired by the family of the present owner in the 1960s.
The Alberto and Annette Giacometti Foundation Database, no. 3403.
Lausanne, Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Schweizer Kunst im 20. Jahrhundert, April - October 1964.
Pforzheim, Reuchlinhaus, Schweizer Malerei und Plastik 1945-1965, February - March 1966; this exhibition later travelled to Koblenz, Kaiserslautern, Wuppertal and Bremen.
St Gallen, Kunstverein, Giacometti, September 1979.
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Sammlungen Hans und Walter Bechtler, August - October 1982, pp. 64 & 174 (illustrated).
Ascona, Museo Communale d’arte Moderna, Alberto Giacometti: sculture, dipinti, disegni, September - October 1985, no. 1, p. 51 (illustrated).
Vienna, Kunsthalle, Alberto Giacometti 1901-1966, February - May 1996, no. 136, p. 167 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, June - September 1996.
Special notice
These lots have been imported from outside the EU for sale using a Temporary Import regime. Import VAT is payable (at 5%) on the Hammer price. VAT is also payable (at 20%) on the buyer’s Premium on a VAT inclusive basis. When a buyer of such a lot has registered an EU address but wishes to export the lot or complete the import into another EU country, he must advise Christie's immediately after the auction.

Brought to you by

Anna Povejsilova
Anna Povejsilova

Lot Essay

Tête de Diego sur socle was conceived by Alberto Giacometti circa 1955. A portrait of the artist’s brother, this work dates from a period of crucial development in Giacometti’s career. Placed on a solid, rough base, a head stares out at the viewer. Viewed in profile, its form cuts the space like a sharp silhouette. Approached frontally, however, the portrait acquires a troubling, compelling three-dimensionality. Scarred and lumped, the bronze cast has maintained the immediacy and urgency of the original clay model, the fragmentary, expressive surface of the head contrasting sharply with the impenetrable block of its base.

Works such as Tête de Diego sur socle marked a new beginning in Giacometti’s sculpture, which followed a period of intense crisis. After his close involvement with the Surrealists, in the 1930s Giacometti set out to sculpt from nature. His ambition was to free his eye from any sort of artistic received education and to represent nature as though he saw it for the first time. The artist thus started working on a series of portraits. ‘The more I looked at the model’, Giacometti recalled, ‘the more the screen between his reality and mine grew thicker. One starts by seeing the person who poses, but little by little all the possible sculptures of him intervene. The more a real vision of him disappears, the stranger his head becomes. One is no longer sure of his appearance, or of his size, or of anything at all. There were too many sculptures between my model and me. And when there were no more sculptures, there was a complete stranger that I no longer knew whom I saw or what I was looking at’ (J. Lord, Giacometti: A Biography, London, 1986, p. 165). Wanting to represent reality with a pure eye, Giacometti had found himself caught between his effort to refute any preconceived ideas of that reality, and his helplessness in finding a new artistic way to confront it. Giacometti’s struggle to attain a realistic rendering of the perception of a human figure continued right through the end of the Second World War, when – returned to Paris – the artist would resolve to devote the rest of his life to this pursuit.

Upon his return to Paris in 1945, Giacometti took repossession of his studio in rue Hippolyte-Maindron. It was there that the artist lived through a seminal experience that was going to shape his future apprehension of a human head. In 1946, in the text ‘Le rêve, le Sphinx et la mort de T.’, Giacometti narrated how the vision of the corpse of his neighbour suddenly changed his perception of human heads: ‘Standing motionless by the bed, I looked at the head, which had become an object, an insignificant, measurable, little box’ (A. Giacometti, ‘Le rêve, le Sphinx et la mort de T.’, pp. 68-75, in A. Giacometti, Écrits: Articles, notes et entretiens, Paris, 2007, p. 71). The insignificance the head of the artist’s friend had acquired once devoid of life seemed to stress by contrast that ineffable energy which, through his features, characterises the presence of a human being. The more Giacometti tried to approach the human head with a pure, unbiased eye, however, the more that inexplicable liveliness seemed to elude him. In the same text, the artist explained: ‘During that period I had begun to see heads in the void, in the space that surrounded them. The first time I saw a head I was looking at freeze, become fixed in that single instant forever, I trembled with terror as never before in my life, and a cold sweat ran down my back. This was no longer a living head, but an object which I looked at as I would look at any other object; yet not quite, not like any other object, differently, like something that was dead and alive at the same time’ (A. Giacometti, ‘Le rêve, le Sphinx et la mort de T.’, op. cit., p. 71-72). It was this mystery – of how a human head could exist in space as any other inanimate object and yet transpire a sense of life – that Giacometti, until the very end of his life, tried to solve in his art.

In 1947, perhaps to exorcise the spell of the terrifying vision of T.’s lifeless semblances, Giacometti executed two head sculptures, Le Nez and Tête sur tige which, in their inanimate quality, seemed to directly tackle the troubling ambiguity the artist had experience in 1946. Conceived some years later, Tête de Diego sur socle marks a definite new development in Giacometti’s quest. The work’s surprising elongation and blade-like extension suggests that, by the 1950s, Giacometti had found a way to circumvent received artistic conventions and styles, while expressing that ineffable quality which emanated from a human head. The unusual deformation of Tête de Diego sur socle was determined by the artist’s wish to render in sculpture, not the anatomical three-dimensional description of what a head is known to be, but rather the experience of its perception. The sharp thinning of the head in Tête de Diego sur socle is not to be understood as the expression of an extravagant stylistic choice, but rather as the result of the artist’s subtle observation of his own direct experience of the sitter. Reinhold Hohl perceptively described the connection between the head’s knife-edge form and the experience of observed reality: ‘if one contemplates the head [the sculpture] frontally, one can nonetheless perceive the entire depth of the subject. To do so, the eye has to perform in front of the sculpture the same effort of adaptation he performs in front of a real head, progressing from the point of the nose until the ears; the artist has thus found a way to confer to his creation the same weight of reality’ (R. Hohl, Alberto Giacometti, Lausanne, 1971, p. 144).

In his work, Giacometti always observed his subjects frontally. Works such as Tête de Diego sur socle should also be viewed from a similar frontal position, so as to place the viewer in the same position where the artist once stood. In this regard, works such as Tête de Diego sur socle are only partially sculpture in three-dimensions: they certainly were not conceived to be apprehended in the round, but from a fixed point of perspective that could reveal their real aim and power. The role of this distortion is not that of describing the head in space, but that of evoking its perception by another human being. Tête de Diego sur socle thus escapes its own sculptural materiality to become the mark of a transcendental experience. Yves Bonnefoy observed: ‘[its] distortion merely means a refusal to see sculpture as the presence of an object’ (Y. Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti: A Biography of his Works, Paris, 1991, p. 385). Instead, Giacometti strived to transform sculpture into the recording of a phenomenological experience of an object. It ensued that works such as Tête de Diego sur socle balanced themselves between nothingness and life, not unlike the heads as Giacometti had experienced them in 1946. Bonnefoy noticed: ‘In order to look at the work, one must stand where Giacometti looked from… And if that angle remains undiscovered, the bronze or plaster is no more than a paperweight, but when that angle is found, everything acquires an amazing coherence, unity and intensity, while space, which seemed to reject the strange sculpture, is suddenly transformed by it and becomes the area of its radiance in all directions’ (Y. Bonnefoy, ibid., p. 385).

More from Impressionist/Modern Evening Sale

View All
View All