By 1950 Giacometti felt that he had exhausted the possibilities inherent in the attenuated, stick-like figures that he made in his visionary, weightless style during the late 1940s. These works, already deemed iconic, made him famous in Europe and America, and indeed his eagerness to move beyond these works also had much to do with casting off the stifling burden of their success and the expectations that they had fostered in the public eye. 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. A renewed interest in painting, set in motion by his passion for drawing, proved to be the key in this next stage in his development. Just as he had done in the mid-1930s, when he abandoned his Surrealist and abstract manner, he worked directly in front of his model, most frequently his wife Annette or his brother Diego. The intimate nature of these relationships did much to inspire the probing intensity of these new sculptures.
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. 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).
The present sculpture was formerly in the collection of Louisa Winslow Robin, an American painter and collector who was active from the early 1930s to the late 1950s. Louisa exhibited regularly with prestigious institutions such as the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, and it was through her relationship with Gordon Washburn, a former director of the Carnegie Institute, that she acquired the small plaster by Giacometti. In August 1955, Washburn sent Louisa a letter of introduction for several artists and dealers he suggested she meet while traveling to Europe later that fall. Washburn had also been in touch with G. David Thompson, a great supporter of Giacometti's work, who requested that Louisa take "a few bits of clothing" and ten cartons of cigarettes to the artist while in Paris. Louisa eagerly complied, and Giacometti presented her with the sculpted head in return.