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.
"I admire his very young wife for accepting this life," Simone de Beauvoir wrote of the Giacometti's domestic ménage to her lover, Nelson Algren. "Having spent the day as his secretary, [Annette] goes back to their desperate lodgings, she does not have a winter coat and she wears worn-out shoes... He is very attached to her but since he is not the tender sort she has some hard times" (quoted in M. Peppiatt, Alberto Giacometti in Postwar Paris, exh. cat., New Haven, 2001, p. 10). It was a canny observation from the feminist intellectual who would later call her relationship with Sartre the greatest achievement of her life. De Beauvoir instinctively grasped the difficulty of Alberto and Annette's experiment in loving and, with empathetic understanding, the nature of co-dependency in an age of existential doubt. Giacometti's friends were surprised by how quickly Annette was assimilated into his life, moving directly into his studio, modeling for him all day, and going out with him at night. Yet "it should have been clear from the start," Michael Peppiatt has noted, that "although he was deeply fond of his girlish new companion, Giacometti was in no way prepared to change his style of life to satisfy the needs of a wife" (ibid., p. 9). Theirs would be an unconventional marriage, beset by various interlopers and always in the shadow of Giacometti's work, yet Annette faithfully came to the studio every day until his death in 1966, a constant though enigmatic presence in his life. Annette avec manteau portrays the material reality of the then forty-one-year-old woman, tangibly solid yet emotionally impenetrable, as she appeared to Giacometti in the twilight of his life.
His final portraits of Annette are "confrontational images," Valerie Fletcher has remarked, her enduring presentness amplified by a new vibrancy fiercely concentrated, as always, in the crux of her wide-open eyes (in Alberto Giacometti, 1901-1966, exh. cat., Kunsthalle Vienna, 1996, p. 30). The gravity of Annette's expression here, fixed in the lines that give her face and gaze their solemn intensity, stands in contrast to his late images of Diego, gaunt and nightmarish, and to the pearly grisaille heads of Caroline, a young woman who since 1959 had been the artist's alternate muse. Caroline's presence in his life created difficulties with Annette, who resented her displacement and the gifts of time and money Giacometti lavished on her rival. The late portraits of his wife betray the physical and psychological distance opened up between them, yielding, as Fletcher has observed, the immutable "impression of unbridgeable alienation both between the figure and its environment and between that image and the viewer" (in Giacometti, 1901-1966, exh. cat., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., 1988, p. 47). For a man whose models often recalled their sittings as an experience of psychological possession, it was perhaps the stubborn self-possession of Annette--the integrity and totality of her person--that lent her portraits their perfect obduracy. One suspects that the deepest intimacy they shared was that of painter and model; she was most real to him within the imaginary, painted space into which she sat contained. Repeating an anecdote told by the poet Jacques Dupin, Peppiatt has recounted: "After Annette had posed for him all afternoon, Giacometti was staring at her with particular intensity. 'Why are you looking at me like that?' she asked. 'Because I haven't seen you all day,' Giacometti replied" (op. cit., pp. 12-13).
Even in those portraits in which the head is a relatively small part of the composition, Giacometti paid obsessive attention to his sitter's features, especially the eyes, which fix the viewer's gaze relentlessly to the near space of the painting, resisting the backward pull of the orthogonal framework of lines that surround the sitter. His fascination with oblique, distorted space partially explains his revival in the 1950s of framing outlines that he painted around nearly all of his images, a device that he had used as far back as 1917-18. Evoking the Renaissance conceit of painting as a window onto the world, this framing technique, in which lines parallel to the edge of the canvas delineate the composition, circumscribes the fictive space of the image, and thus isolates it from the viewer's reality. "The inner framing," Reinhold Hohl has remarked, "is thus the mediator between the Imaginary--the painted object in its imaginary space and in its true phenomenological size--and the Real, namely the whole painting as a picture and as part of our real space" (in Alberto Giacometti: A Retrospective Exhibition, exh. cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1974, p. 36). To freeze Annette in the interior space of his painting, marking that uncertain, disproportionate space as separate from the reality of their life together, is a gesture of both acknowledgment and detachment typical of Giacometti's relationship with his wife. Giacometti admitted as much, explaining that he repeated the outlines because he did not "determine the true space of the figure until after it [was]...finished I try to fictionalize my painting... And also because my figures need a sort of no man's land" (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1996, p. 48).
The isolation of the figure is reiterated here by the incisive, gestural black lines within the frame, which operate in a painterly context to define, if not quite to describe, Annette's form. The portraits of Giacometti's last period, Hohl has observed, are given "their plastic and spatial credibility through a combination of curved lines leading into depth, strong highlighting and modelling with a concentration of lines for the darker parts" (in exh. cat., op. cit., 1974, p. 38). Richer in tone than the portraits of the mid- and late 1950s, Annette avec manteau is marked by a powerful expressionism, the painted areas of gray, white and muted ginger showing a restrained sense of color just balanced by the slashing black lines of her hands folded across her lap. Her head, disproportionately undersized for the scale of the body, nevertheless projects a magnetic and insistent gaze outward to the viewer, its darkened and unseeing countenance a terrifying vision to behold.
The awarding to Giacometti of the Grand Sculpture Prize at the 1962 Venice Biennale provided the occasion for the artist to cast a retrospective glance over the sum of his career and to affirm, in the end, the essential humanism underlying his life and work. Acknowledging his reputation as an "artist of loneliness," he stated that he didn't have "the slightest tendency in that direction...I believe that all of life is the opposite of loneliness because it consists of a net of relationships with others" (quoted in Alberto Giacometti: Myth, Magic, and the Man, New Haven, 2003, p. 269). In another interview he again emphasized the centrality of love, exclaiming: "It is not true that the individual with his emotional life no longer feels himself at the center of the world! What do you think really interests people from morning to night if it isn't their feelings, their work, friendship and love--especially love. They read the newspaper maybe ten minutes a day, they see that a satellite is orbiting around the moon, and then they immediately start talking again about work, and love. And not only that: often somebody will commit suicide because of love problems. And that means that if an individual would rather die than live without a person he loves, then the power of emotion does still dominate the world. The unity of a person today consists of the integrity of his feeling. This affective integrity determines the relationships between people, otherwise there would be no attraction, no sympathy and no antipathy" (quoted in R. Hohl, Giacometti: A Biography in Pictures, Stuttgart, 1998, pp. 176-77).
(fig. 1) Alberto painting Annette, 1954. Photograph by Sabine Weiss. BARCODE 25247794