This original plaster cast of Buste d'homme belongs to the great series of male heads and busts that Giacometti created during the mid-1950s, "which are as famous as they are beautiful," as Yves Bonnefoy has written. "These sculpted faces compel one to face them as if one were speaking to the person, meeting his eyes" (Alberto Giacometti: A Biography of his Work, Paris, 1991, p. 432). Giacometti has rendered this likeness of a man as if his head were a towering but distant outcropping on a craggy precipice, diminishing into the airy space around it, but with a massive body "furrowed and scored with holes and chasms like the rocky walls of the Alps... [The bust] signifies matter as such, matter in its essential being. And so the bust became an idea almost as much as a presence: the idea of the triumph of being over nothingness" (ibid., p. 437).
By 1950 Giacometti felt that he had exhausted the possibilities inherent in the attenuated, stick-like figures that he made in his elongated, weightless style during the late 1940s. He now sought to reclaim a more realistic and concrete sense of space, without sacrificing the acute degree of expressivity that he had worked so long and hard to achieve. Just as he had done in 1935 when he gave up his surrealist and abstract manner, Giacometti once again committed himself to working from a model, his wife Annette or more often his brother Diego. The intimate nature of these relationships did much to inspire the visceral intensity of these new sculptures. Bonnefoy has written: "Giacometti had indeed chosen the existence of individuals, the here and now as the chief object of his new and future study; and that he instinctively realized that this object transcended all artistic signs and representations, since it was no less than life itself. (ibid., p. 369).
Giacometti's purpose in re-engaging with a living, present model was not to describe a realistic resemblance of a conventional kind, instead he sought to create a palpable and convincing representation of the reality of being, as he perceived it in space. As Christian Klemm has pointed out, "For Giacometti it was the essential presence of the human being, as it appears to the artist, that he sought to grasp--the ceaseless dialogue between seeing and the seen, eye and hand, in which form continually grows and dissolves" (Alberto Giacometti, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2001, p. 222).
Diego was an ever-present and absolute constant in his life: it was inevitable that he should become the sculptor's most frequent and important model. The sculptor's confrontation with his model, in which he continually built up and broke down the image he held in his hands, constituted in its most extreme circumstances an utterly heroic and inherently futile endeavor. This effort was for Giacometti an all-stakes encounter with being and nothingness, a struggle that found its most profound and powerful expression in the depiction of another man, and it was indeed fortunate that this man was his brother, someone who was as close as possible to being a virtual extension of artist himself. By obsessively concentrating on the particulars of a single individual, and probing them from sculpture to sculpture, Giacometti created a universal man, who was no less compelling in his presence than the famous attenuated figures of the late 1940s.
Jean Genet wrote: "The busts of Diego can be seen from all sides: three-quarters, profile, back... they should be seen from the front. The meaning of the face--its profound resemblance--instead of accumulating on the front, escapes, plunges into infinity, into a place that is never reached, behind the bust" (in "The Studio of Alberto Giacometti," E. White, ed., The Selected Writings of Jean Genet, New York, 1993, p. 324). Although Giacometti restricted himself to a frontal view of Diego, and modeled his brother's head, shoulders and chest only, he nonetheless created an astonishing variety of portrait sculptures (fig. 1), tending toward one or the other of two basic types. In the first, Giacometti modeled the upper chest to serve as a massive base for a smallish but realistically rounded head, so that the mass of the head appears to recede into the space around it (as seen at far left, fig. 1). In the second, the head is like a spade: very narrow when viewed from the front, but from the side presenting a full profile. The upper body would conversely present a broad mass from the front, while displaying a narrow silhouette from the side. Grande Tête mince is a famous example of the latter type (the large head seen at center, fig. 1; another cast sold, Christie's New York, 4 May 2010, lot 13). The present plaster when viewed from the front shows a very small and relatively narrow head set atop a mountainous upper body, but from the side reveals a more natural silhouette and proportions, as if the figure were a tall, thin man wearing a bulky coat.
The various sculptures of men that Giacometti executed before during 1947-1950 stand full-length and are engaged in some sort of motion or activity. An intriguing transformation then ensued. When Giacometti's male subjects after 1950 took the form of heads or busts, without a lower body and often shorn of their limbs, they became immobile in their pose. By focusing on the head and an armless upper body, and excluding the rest of the figure, the sculptor has emphasized a conception of man now given to thought, rather than to action. Giacometti believed that the most important sign of life is awareness, a faculty that is manifest in one's gaze. He declared, "If the gaze, that is life, is the main thing, then the head becomes the main thing, without a doubt. The rest of the body is limited to functioning as antennae that make people's life possible--the life that is housed in the skull" (quoted in R. Hohl, ed., Giacometti: A Biography in Pictures, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1998, p. 146).
Giacometti had modeled his figures of the late 1940s--works done from memory and imagination--in plaster applied to an armature, shaped with his fingers and knife. After he began working from life in long sessions, Giacometti switched to modeling in clay, which dried more slowly and could be kept moist as needed. Most of Giacometti's plasters are originals, as Véronique Wiesinger has explained, "not in the usual sense, but in the way Giacometti meant. In the technical vocabulary for sculpture, an original plaster cast is the outcome of a casting of a clay model, casting during which the mould is broken (and the clay model sometimes kept, even when damaged), meaning that the plaster cast is a one-off. From this plaster model, further casts are then made using a piece mould. In Giacometti's case, however, most of the casts, even the ones resulting from piece moulds, are 'original', insofar as they become unique by being reworked by him, with knife, brush, pencil, or by the addition of fresh plaster" (The Studio of Alberto Giacometti, exh. cat., Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2007, p. 162). In 2006 a bronze edition was authorized and cast from the present plaster version; cast no. 3/8 of this edition will be sold from the collection of Franz Meyer at Christie's Zurich on 21 March 2011.
This plaster Buste d'homme has an especially distinguished provenance, with a direct and historic connection to Giacometti. Franz Meyer (1919-2007) was director of the Kunsthalle Bern from 1955 to 1961. He was married to Ida Chagall, the daughter of the artist, and in 1963 he published his landmark monograph on Chagall's work. In 1956 Meyer organized at the Kunsthalle a large exhibition of Giacometti's work from all periods, including 46 sculptures, 23 paintings and 16 drawings. It opened on 16 July, the same day as the XXVIII Venice Biennale, in which the French state sponsored a pavilion dedicated to Giacometti's work. After installing the Venice exhibition, Giacometti continued on to Bern to oversee the preparations there. He had sent six of his new Femmes de Venise to the Venice Biennale (see lot 64), and four to the Bern exhibition.
Giacometti's show at the Kunsthalle Bern, as James Lord has written,"was a comprehensive survey of the artist's career to date, the most comprehensive that he had yet occasion to see. Seeing it, he cannot have failed to perceive from what a distance, from what a radically different point of departure he had come. It must have looked like something of a watershed... He gladly agreed to attend the opening of the exhibition and go afterward to the party which Franz and Ida Meyer were planning to give in their apartment" (Giacometti: A Biography, New York, 1985, pp. 358 and 359). Meyer acquired this plaster Buste d'homme from Giacometti around this time. He later became head of the board of the Alberto Giacometti-Stiftung, Zurich. Meyer served as director of the Kunstmuseum Basel from 1962 to 1980, and presided over the permanent loan of works to that institution from the Alberto Giacometti-Stiftung.
Giacometti with Diego and Annette, circa 1952. Photograph by Alexander Liberman.
Alexander Liberman Photographic Collection & Archive Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, California (2000 R.19) copyright J. Paul Getty Trust.
(fig. 1) Alberto Giacometti, standing women and heads of Diego, mid-1950s. Photograph by Patricia Matisse, courtesy of the Pierre and Tania Matisse Foundation.
(fig. 2) Left side view of the present lot.