The Comité Giacometti has confirmed the authenticity of this work. It will be included in the catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Foundation Alberto and Annette Giacometti.
This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Association Alberto and Annette Giacometti and Mary Lisa Palmer.
The series of sculptures known as the Femmes de Venise, comprising nine individual but closely related figures cast in bronze, has become virtually synonymous with Giacometti's fame and reputation as the most important sculptor of the postwar era. Christian Klemm has stated: ''The Women of Venice mark the halfway point in Giacometti's mature work; they bring together the different characteristics of his figures. The evocative name, which binds the individual figures into one group despite their differences, had an enhancing effect: as the figures became legendary, they came to be regarded as the epitome of his art. The extremely small, distant heads and the innovatively sloping pedestals, from which the over-size feet grow, still make them seem like revelatory, illusionistic visions. The tension in the mingling of goddess and concubine, of Egyptian cult image and decomposing corpse, is seen nowhere as vividly as in this group" (in Alberto Giacometti, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2001, p. 218).
Giacometti created the Femmes de Venise in response to an invitation from the French government, which had hitherto displayed little recognition of the sculptor's achievement, to exhibit selections from his oeuvre in the main gallery of the state pavilion at the 1956 Venice Biennale, which was scheduled to open in June. Giacometti also agreed to a major retrospective in Bern that would run concurrently with the Biennale. The artist was disinclined to turn back to older work when deciding what to include in the Biennale pavilion. He generally preferred to show his latest sculptures when he exhibited, and clearly the landmark occasion of the Biennale, together with the larger Bern event, called for a maximum effort, and demanded results that would serve as a major and up-to-date statement of his work at this stage in his career.
Giacometti decided on a series of standing nude women, and set to work in early 1956, initiating a rush of sustained and feverish activity that lasted through May. Using, as was his custom, a single armature, he worked and reworked the clay figures almost daily. This compulsive sense of doubt and self-criticism was essential to his creative method, as the sculptor relentlessly built up, broke down, and often even destroyed his works-in-progress. These new sculptures would be clearly understood as having evolved within this exploratory, touch-and-go process. Instead of aiming towards a final and conclusive state, and then settling on a single outcome that marked the sum of his efforts to that point, Giacometti wanted to reveal the very process of making them, by tracking their changing and ultimately varied shapes within the parameters of the overall theme. The sculptor had his brother Diego make a plaster cast of the clay figure, which required only a few hours pause in his work, whenever he had achieved a result that interested him at the moment. Giacometti did not work from a living model--that is, his wife Annette--as he had made his practice while drawing, painting and modeling during the early 1950s. He worked here from a visualization of the female form that he held in his mind's eye, whose figure he proceeded to shape with the spontaneous, instinctual and practiced motions of his skilful hands. James Lord has described how ''In the course of a single afternoon this figure could undergo ten, twenty, forty metamorphoses as the sculptor's fingers coursed over the clay. Not one of these states was definitive, because he was not working toward a preconceived idea of form. Alberto's purpose was not to preserve one state of his sculpture from amid so many. It was to see more clearly what he had seen. In plaster, the revelation was more luminous than in clay. Once a figure existed in plaster, however, it stood apart from the flux in which it had developed. It had achieved an ambiguous permanence and made an apparent claim for survival. If the artist allowed it to survive, to be cast in bronze, this was by reason of curiosity and comparison, not as potential evidence of achievement" (op. cit., pp. 355-356). Of the casts that Giacometti elected to keep, David Sylvester has noted that "the last of the states was no more definitive than its predecessors. All were provisional. And from his point of view, every head and standing figure was a state, hardly more than a means towards doing the next" (in Looking at Giacometti, New York, 1994, p. 85).
We know the Femmes de Venise from the nine states, preserved in plaster, that Giacometti subsequently had cast in bronze, which were numbered from I to IX. He in fact elected to show ten plasters that summer; six were dispatched to the Biennale, while four went to Bern. Giacometti's process of self-critical selectivity was still in force, even after the exhibitions had ended. Four of the plasters shown in Venice, and two of the Bern figures, were not cast in bronze and were presumably destroyed. Other plasters that had stayed behind in Paris were later cast in their place, which means that six of the figures that we now call Femmes de Venise were not actually shown in Venice. The present Femme de Venise I, however, in fact lives up to its namesake venue. The plaster cast from which this bronze was made is visible at the far right hand side of an installation photograph taken at the 1956 Biennale (fig. 1).
The numbering of the nine Femmes de Venise in bronze (fig. 2) does not necessarily reflect the specific order in which there plaster models were executed. It does seem likely, however, that Femme de Venise I was done early, if not first of all, in the sequence. Her figure is the most robustly naturalistic, with pronounced and expressively modeled female features; she stands like a modern version of a prehistoric fertility fetish. Beneath broad and powerful shoulders, her breasts erupt from her narrow frame. Her protuberant belly forms the upper part of her massive pelvic region, whose bowl-shape is reinforced by gargantuan hands. All of this represents her profoundly female generative power. Femmes de Venise IV and V are her next closest relatives, but neither of these figures display such exaggerated contrasts among their parts, or to the same degree the sculptor's apparent pleasure in the pure tactile quality of the surface facture. Her small head is perhaps the most noble and handsome of all in the series; she gazes in self-absorbed contemplation into the distance, and there is an imperious aspect of her slightly raised head, which betokens a sense of resolve and inner strength that is not nearly as detectable in her more impassive although still aloof and unattainable sisters.
Femme de Venise I is closely related to the smaller figures of Annette that Giacometti had modeled in recent years, such as the women in the Nu debout series (see lot 5; fig. 1). As such, she appears to have provided a starting point for the more reduced and attenuated figures that make up the rest of the series, and more clearly harken back to the ''weightless and visionary" style of the late 1940s, which Giacometti intended to invoke and restate in this partly retrospective sequence of sculptures. Although not among the tallest of the series, Femme de Venise I possesses a compelling physical presence, and among the women she perhaps most closely reflects Giacometti's creative ethos during the 1950s. He had written in 1957 that ''I have certainly been painting and sculpting to get a better grip on reality to see better, to understand things around me better, to understand better as to be free as big as possible, to spend, to spend myself as much as possible in what I do, to discover new worlds, to wage my war for the pleasure of winning and losing" (''My Reality", trans. in M. Peppiatt, Alberto Giacometti in Postwar Paris, exh. cat., Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, 2001, p. 37). James Lord has observed that ''With the entire accumulation of this stylistic skill--wrought by a sheer disbelief in its efficacy--Giacometti was moving towards a greater and greater simplicity of means, which showed that he was going, as he had always meant to go, toward a confrontation with what was most difficult" (op. cit., p. 357).
The bronze edition of Femme de Venise I comprises eight casts in all, which are numbered 1/6 though 6/6, plus two designated 0/6 and 00/6. The last cast from this edition to have been sold at public auction appeared in a sale a quarter of a century ago, at Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York in 1972.
(fig. 1) Installation photograph of six plasters in the series Femmes de Venise, at the French Pavilion of the 1956 Venice Biennale. Femme de Venise I appears at far right. Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris. BARCODE 25238556
(fig 2). Alberto Giacometti, the nine bronze versions of the Femmes de Venise, 1956. They are, from left to right, numbers II, IV, VI, IX, VII, V, VIII, I, and III. Photograph courtesy of Alex Matter. BARCODE 25238563