Executed in 1954, Portrait de James Lord is one of a small group of works on paper from that year in which Alberto Giacometti captured his friend - and later biographer - James Lord. One of the other drawings is now in the Musée Picasso, Paris, while Giacometti's oil portrait of the author was painted in 1964. Portrait de James Lord is all the more historic as it was formerly in the famous collection of Walter Bareiss, who assembled a range of works, focussing on works on paper, by many of the greatest names in twentieth century art.
Lord was a francophile who had initially gone to Paris at the end of the Second World War working with US military intelligence. He had already introduced himself to Pablo Picasso and struck up friendships with various other figures when he met Giacometti. 'One evening in February 1952,' Lord recalled,
'I wandered into the Café des Deux-Magots in Paris, looking for somebody to talk to, and chanced upon a friend. He introduced me to his companion: Alberto Giacometti. Like almost everyone meeting him for the first time, I sensed at once that the man before me was profoundly different from other people and felt a powerful attraction, which was all the stronger for being exerted by an artist whose work I knew already and greatly admired' (J. Lord, Giacometti: A Biography, 1996, p. xi).
Over the subsequent years, Lord became a frequent visitor to Giacometti's studio, and was able to write the artist's biography by drawing upon both his own experiences and the thoughts and memories that they shared in conversation. Lord's writings and recollections provided numerous details and insights into Giacometti's life and working practice, not least into the experience of sitting for a portrait. Here, the artist has constructed the form of Lord's upper body and especially his head through a swirling mass of lines, all of which coagulate in order to capture the physical form of Lord. Some of the sheet has been left in reserve, giving the viewer a vivid sense of spatiality, of the sitter's body within the larger space of the studio. At the same time, that restraint in treating the background results in the greater emphasis on Lord's densely-worked features, which have been rendered through an intense haze of hatchings and outlines. Looking at Portrait de James Lord, Giacometti's incredible versatility as a highly idiosyncratic draughtsman is clear, as is the importance of drawing itself. 'What I believe is that, whether or not sculpture and painting are involved, drawing is the only thing that counts,' Giacometti told Lord. 'One should be concerned only, exclusively, with drawing. If one could master drawing, everything else would be possible' (Giacometti, quoted in Y. Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti: A Biography of His Work, trans. J. Stewart, Paris, 1991, p. 85).