When Alberto Giacometti returned to Paris after the Second World War, he was facing a crisis. In his search for the essential kernel of existence in his representations of the human figure, he had pared away his works to the extent that they were tiny, apparently fitting into matchboxes. Soon, a solution was brought about by an epiphany: Giacometti began to present slender, vertical figures such as Femme nue which combine a visceral sense of physical presence and psychological distance. As Giacometti explained, people sitting or standing at certain distances from people appear larger or smaller; this was a factor that he began to incorporate in his sculptures and pictures alike. In Femme nue, this is particularly acute - the scale of the sculpture lends this woman a sense of the intangible, despite the incredible materiality of the surface. In this way, Femme nue demonstrates Giacometti's belief regarding women that, 'The nearer one gets, the more distant they are' (Giacometti, quoted in D. Sylvester, Looking at Giacometti, London, 1994, p. 30).
In his post-war works, when Giacometti presented full-length human figures, rather than busts or heads, he would show men striding but women standing. This was a continuation of the difference already noted in the archaic Greek sculptures of men and women: in the male kouros, the man is shown in the process of walking, whereas the female kore is static and, by implication, passive. This also reflected Giacometti's own psychological perspective: looking at the human interaction in the urban environment around him, he was highly aware of the idea that men looked at women, that in the streets and squares of Paris the woman was viewed. Giacometti himself had been struck by this observation. He wrote of his experiences viewing people during the moment of his epiphany, having been to a cinema in Montparnasse:
'These people walking up and down the street were unconscious automatons... like ants; everyone went his own way, by himself, entirely alone, in a direction none of the others knew. Crossing in front of each other, walking past each other, you know? Without seeing each other, without looking at each other. Except they would turn towards a woman. A motionless woman, and four men walking, more or less in relation to the woman; it occurred to me that I had always made a woman standing still, and a man always walking. All of my women stand there, and all of my men walk by...' (Giacometti, quoted in U. Küster, ed., Giacometti, exh. cat., Riehen/Basel, 2009, p. 114).
Giacometti's sculptures in the post-war period were often based on his wife, Annette. She became a template for many of his most successful works and a constant source of inspiration, though the prolonged sessions in the studio during which the artist analysed and scrutinised her could be gruelling, as he preferred her to stand rigid, her arms at her sides. Looking at this intensely-worked sculpture, its surface reveals the sustained efforts of the artist to capture the female form in a manner which combines portrait-like specificity with universality: in his upright figures, Giacometti condensed much of the human existence.