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La console 'Hommage à Böcklin'

La console 'Hommage à Böcklin'
stamped 'DIEGO' and stamped again with the monogram 'DG' (on a crossbar)
bronze and iron with green and grey patina and copper
Height: 35 3⁄8 in. (90 cm.)
Width: 47 ¾ in. (121.4 cm.)
Depth: 13 ¼ in. (33.6 cm.)
Conceived circa 1978; this example cast in 1980
Acquired directly from the artist on 30 July 1980, and thence by descent to the present owners.
J. Lord, 'Diego sculpteur' in Connaissance des Arts, Paris, June 1982, no. 364, p. 71 (another example illustrated; titled 'Console 'Coucher de soleil'' and dated '1981').
M. Butor, Diego Giacometti, Paris, 1985, p. 33 (a detail of another example illustrated in situ).
D. Marchesseau, Diego Giacometti, Paris, 1986, p. 92 (another example illustrated).
D. Marchesseau, Diego Giacometti: Sculpteur de meubles, Paris, 2018, p. 110 (another example illustrated).
Zurich, Museum Bellerive, Diego Giacometti: Möbel und Objekte aus Bronze, June - September 1988, no. 21, p. 110 (illustrated pl. 34, p. 51).

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Keith Gill
Keith Gill Head of Department

Lot Essay

Conceived circa 1978, La console ‘Hommage à Böcklin’ showcases Diego Giacometti’s mastery of composition and narrative, conjuring a poetic scene within the elegant lines of a console table through a select grouping of simple, refined elements. Drawing from the artist’s familiar repertoire of organic motifs and the menagerie of small, delicately sculpted animals for which he was renowned, the table is transformed from a utilitarian object into a multi-layered tableau that pays homage to the Swiss-born Symbolist painter, Arnold Böcklin.
Born in Basel, Böcklin was among the most celebrated Swiss artists of the 19th century, initially making a name for himself as a painter of idyllic and elegiac visions of nature in the vein of Caspar David Friedrich. Gradually, however, he shifted towards darker, dreamlike imagery, often referencing ancient mythology, to explore the psychological content of landscape and the ability of nature to arouse the subconscious states of man. By the end of the century Böcklin had achieved widespread fame across Europe, and his works were among the most expensive contemporary paintings in Germany. He had an important influence on younger generations of artists, from Franz von Stuck and the Pre-Raphaelites, to Giorgio de Chirico and Surrealists such as Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, and Salvador Dalí.
In La console ‘Hommage à Böcklin,’ Giacometti invokes Böcklin’s mysterious landscapes, particularly his series of paintings known as Die Toteninsel or The Isle of the Dead, of which the artist created five variations between 1880-1886. In these haunting compositions, a shining figure clothed in white robes stands atop a small boat as it glides across the water towards a rocky, mythical isle, accompanied by a ferryman and a draped coffin. At the centre of this enigmatic island stands a dense grove of towering cypress trees – the high cliff walls wrapping around them in a semi-circular ring – that draws the eye straight to the heart of the composition. In a letter to his patron Marie Berna, who had commissioned the original painting from Böcklin, the artist described the mood he was trying to convey in Die Toteninsel and its desired effect on the viewer: ‘You will be able to dream yourself into the world of dark shadows until you believe you can feel the soft and gentle breeze that ripples the sea, so that you shy from interrupting the stillness with any audible sound…’ (A. Böcklin quoted in G. Schiff and S. Waetzoldt, eds., German Masters of the Nineteenth Century: Paintings and Drawings from the Federal Republic of Germany, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1981, p. 62)
In La console ‘Hommage à Böcklin’, Giacometti eschews the darker, brooding elements of Böcklin’s painting and instead channels the artist’s powerful sense of mood and atmosphere within his landscapes, conjuring a serene and timeless ode to the beauty and mystery of the natural world. A quartet of cypresses are arranged across the central bar of the console, animating the interior volume of the table, their surfaces delicately scored and articulated to suggest the foliage and texture of the trees. In an unusual move for Giacometti, the artist introduces a feeling of space and perspective into this piece, creating an illusion of depth through the varying scale of the cypresses, as they reduce in size towards the golden disc in the middle, simultaneously suggesting their proximity in the foreground and their position along the distant horizon, where the moon breaks through on its ascent into the night sky. A small owl remains perched on the thin side armature of the table, silently watching the grove of trees and the progress of the moon, as if waiting for some unknown, mystical event to occur.
Giacometti’s extraordinary ability with patinas comes to the fore in La console ‘Hommage à Böcklin,’ lending a rich, textural finish to the table in tones that range from vibrant turquoise to a softer, sage green in the trees, and nuanced shades of russet brown which accentuate the three-dimensional form of the owl. At the same time, he introduces a bright warm copper tone to the central disc, so that it becomes the principal focal point of the piece, drawing the eye to the console’s crossbar, as if each element is held in place by its strange gravity. The result is a lyrical composition that marries Giacometti’s inspired, refined craftsmanship with his unique, sensitive storytelling, in a delicate, imaginative homage to both the art of the past and the natural world.

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