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Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)

Femme debout

Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)
Femme debout
signed and numbered 'Alberto Giacometti 4/6' (on the side of the base); inscribed with foundry mark 'Susse Fondr Paris' (on the back)
bronze with green and brown patina
Height: 23 ½ in. (59.7 cm.)
Conceived circa 1952 and cast in 1960.
Galerie Maeght, Paris (acquired from the artist, May 1960).
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York (acquired from the above, 29 June 1960).
Private collection, United States.
Harold Diamond, New York.
Private collection, United States.
Galerie Skulima, Berlin.
Galerie Beyeler, Basel (acquired from the above, 6 December 1989).
Gagosian Gallery, New York (acquired from the above, 17 June 1993).
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1993.
J. Dupin, Alberto Giacometti, Paris, 1963, p. 280 (another cast illustrated; dated 1959).
R. Hohl, Alberto Giacometti, Stuttgart, 1971, p. 308 (another cast illustrated, p. 118; dated 1959).
The Alberto Giacometti Database, no. 4233.
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Alberto Giacometti, June-September 1990, p. 135, no. 22 (illustrated in color, p. 56).
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Alberto Giacometti Sculpture, April-June 1993. p. 30.
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

“They rise from the ground as if rooted. And they are poised in flight like medieval saints zooming complacently up to heaven. They are deities, remote, imperious, untouchable, and they are vulnerable naked girls trying to attract customers at a cabaret. They are like dancers when a dancer stands motionless and seems to be drawing her body and the ambient air inward to a still center. And they are like the dead, their heads indrawn and dry as skulls, limbs bound as though bandaged for the grave” (D. Sylvester, Looking at Giacometti, London, 1994, pp. 30-31). David Sylvester’s description of Alberto Giacometti’s tribe of standing women, of which the present Femme debout is one, perfectly captures the captivating power and multivalent iconographic and symbolic interpretations of these sculptures. Unlike their male counterparts, Giacometti’s women appear as hieratic, motionless bodies, their expressions inscrutable and impassive, and yet, as Sylvester continued, “they are not quite still. Their surface, broken and agitated, flickers and the figures, rigid in their posture, perpetually tremble on the edge of movement” (ibid., p. 11).
Conceived circa 1952, the soaring sense of verticality and ascendance that characterizes Femme debout was paradoxically attained from a series of tiny sculptures of only around two centimeters high that the artist had created through the mid-1940s. Having returned to figuration at the beginning of the 1930s, from around 1937 Giacometti had begun to mold small figures mounted on large bases. These works had been inspired by a nocturnal vision that he had seen while walking the streets of Paris at night. He caught sight of his lover and muse of the time, the British beauty and artist’s model, Isabel Nicholas, in the distance, and as he described, “the sculpture I wanted to make of this woman was exactly the vision I had had of her when I saw her in the street, some way off. So I tended to make her the size that she seemed at this distance… I saw the immense blackness of the houses above her, so to convey my impression I should have made a painting not a sculpture. Or else I should have made a vast base so that the whole thing should correspond to my vision” (quoted in Y. Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti: A Biography of his Work, trans. J. Stewart, Paris, 1991, p. 272). Captivated by this memory, Giacometti became obsessed with recording the vision as he had seen it, rendering the sense of space that had existed between him and the subject, without resorting to conventional modes and techniques of representation. This fidelity to reality quickly became the abiding aim of Giacometti’s practice, leading him to create his “visionary” figures of 1947 onwards.
In the early 1950s, Giacometti returned to working from life. Inspired by the presence of Annette, whom he had met in Geneva in 1942, and later married in Paris in 1949, he commenced a new group of standing women, of which the present Femme debout is likely one. These works, together with his earlier female figures of the late 1940s presented a radically new vision of femininity. Exaggeratedly elongated, the female form of Femme debout is nevertheless emphasized. Her narrow waist accentuates her softly curving hips and breasts, this undulating silhouette heightened by having her arms clamped to her sides. A sense of command and power emanates from this figure, which defies the attenuation of her form, as well as, conversely, the vulnerability that could also be interpreted in her slightly raised head and wide-eyed stare. Giacometti has created a novel form of femininity that is at once vulnerable and majestic, enticing and simultaneously imposing.
Jean-Paul Sartre described the compelling dichotomies that the standing women embody: “A complete woman, glimpsed, secretly desired, a woman who passes us by with the strange dignity of a willowy, delicate girl striding carelessly…a woman who passes us by with the tragic horror of a victim of fire or famine; a complete woman, devoted to us, refused us, near, far; a woman whose exquisite body betrays hidden emaciation, and whose horrifying emaciation conceals a soft, physical roundedness; a complete woman, ever endangered on this earth, and yet already not entirely of this earth; a woman who lives, and who tells us of the astonishing adventure of the flesh, our own adventure” (quoted in A. Schneider, ed., Alberto Giacometti: Sculpture, Paintings, Drawings, Munich and New York, 1984, p. 72).
While male figures tend to be active in Giacometti’s sculptural oeuvrepointing or striding forwards—the female figure is by contrast motionless, fixed and immobile. This hieratic quality is reminiscent of the art of antiquity. During his early years in Paris, the artist is known to have spent every Sunday at the Louvre copying the works that impressed him, including Egyptian burial figures and archaic Greek korai. The same sense of frontal stasis can be found in works such as Femme debout. Marrying these multivalent visual equivalences from both contemporary life and art history, Giacometti’s female figures appear timeless, simultaneously belonging to all eras and none, a novel sculptural species that remains among the most compelling realizations of the female form in twentieth century art. “When I’m walking in the street and see a girl completely dressed, I see a girl.” Giacometti once remarked. “When she’s in a room naked in front of me, I see a goddess” (quoted in J. Genet, The Studio of Giacometti, trans. P. King, London, 2013, n.p.).
The plaster and one of the 8 lifetime casts of the present sculpture are located at the Fondation Giacometti, Paris.

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