In 1953 Giacometti created a series of standing nude women that represent a significant departure from his earlier conception of the female figure, both in their appearance and the process in which he modeled them. Just as he had done in the early 1930s following his surrealist period, Giacometti ceased working from memory and the inner eye of his imagination, and instead applied himself to drawing, painting and sculpting while gazing directly at his model as she stood before him. The resulting figures are altogether more substantial than their lean and elongated predecessors of the late 1940s, in Giacometti's famous weightless, visionary style. Distortion and deconstruction nonetheless remain the salient characteristics of his style: these new women possess a full, even exaggerated, feminine hourglass shape with heavy breasts, a pinched waist and broad hips.
Annette Giacometti, the artist's wife, served as the model for the Nu debout series. She spent hours each day standing motionless as he worked on the figures. For each of the Nu debout sculptures she loosened her hair, which falls in abundant waves to her shoulders, further contributing to the sensual aspect of these figures, which are more voluptuous than nearly any other full-length woman in Giacometti's oeuvre. The present Femme debout (Nu debout IV) has a disproportionately larger head than her sisters, as well as shorter legs. Giacometti has given her deeply gouged eye sockets which emphasize her fixed stare into the distance. It was Giacometti's purpose in modeling from life to give the figure a sense of palpable living presence in space, which he has done here, but he has furthermore sexualized her to a degree rarely seen in his sculptures.
Giacometti has in effect created a universalized female figure as if she were a tribal fetish or an ancient fertility goddess--a deliberate, in no way incidental conception, given the artist's declared interest in Cycladic, Sumerian, Egyptian, African and Oceanic art. As Jacques Dupin has written of Giacometti's standing women, "The gravity of their bearing, the asceticism of their demeanor, and their gaze which traverses time... gives them the appearance of divinities. They seem to await a primitive cult" (J. Ashbury, trans., Giacometti: Three Essays, New York, 2005). The impact of this strongly physical and tactile Nu debout is immediate, even aggressive; she imposes herself on the viewer, unlike the typical, usually passive and immobile Giacometti standing woman.
During the following year Giacometti executed other standing women, including one whose title, Nu, d'après nature (fig. 1), overtly states his interest in working directly from the model. In these subsequent figures the tendency toward elongation and narrowness becomes apparent once again. In early 1956 Giacometti began working exclusively on his Femmes de Venise in preparation for exhibitions at the Venice Biennale and the Kunsthalle Bern (see lot 64). In Femme de Venise I, one of the early if not the very first preserved sculpture in this series (see lot 64, fig. 3), Giacometti appears to pick up where he left off in Femme debout (Nu debout IV), but on a larger scale and having gone further in resolving the opposing forces of fullness and elongation. In 1964 this issue of give-and-take in the figure, of working from life or from memory, was still on his mind, as he told David Sylvester in an interview: "I've made very few sculptures of whole figures from life. I haven't sculpted a nude from life for nearly ten years [since 1954]. So I am looking forward to starting again... I'm now trying to work on a figure, not a big one, from life as best I can, and I'm going to push it as far as possible from memory... and then go on working on it from life and see where the difference begins, with the idea that the difference shouldn't be all that great" (quoted in Looking at Giacometti, New York, 1994, p. 135).
(fig. 1) Alberto Giacometti, three sculptures (from left to right): Nu, d'après nature, 1954; Nu debout sans bras, 1954; and Nu debout III; 1953. Photograph by Ernst Scheidegger.
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