Of the nine casts of the present sculpture, two can be found in public institutions including, The Alberto Giacometti Foundation, Paris and the Museum im Deutschhof, Heilbronn, Germany.
In modeling this Tête d’homme during 1948-1950, Alberto Giacometti pared down the masculine visage to the very essentials of its humanity, more as a symbolic conception than flesh. “Giacometti has to make a man,” Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, “to write unity into the infinite multiplicity, the absolute into the purely relative” (“The Search for the Absolute” in Alberto Giacometti, exh. cat., Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, 1948, p. 3).
When Giacometti returned from his self-imposed wartime exile in Geneva to Paris in September 1945, he carried the whole of his surviving recent production—miniscule plaster heads and thin, pin-sized figures—in six matchboxes tucked into the pockets of his overcoat. He wanted to work larger, toward the size of the first Femme au chariot he had modeled in 1942-1943. As he drew figures, working not from a model but from memory and imagination, he discovered—as he later recounted—"I could maintain the height, but they started to get narrow—narrow, tall, and thin as a thread” (quoted in R. Hohl, Giacometti: A Biography in Pictures, New York, 1998, p. 108).
“During that period I had begun to see heads in the void, in the space that surrounded them,” Giacometti wrote in his autobiographical text, The Dream, The Sphinx, and the Death of T, 1946. “The first time I saw a head I was looking at freeze, become fixed in that single instant forever, I trembled with terror… This was no longer a living head, but an object which I looked at as I would look at any other object… something that was dead and alive at the same time… I had just crossed over a threshold, as if I had gone into a world that nobody had seen before” (quoted in M. Peppiatt, Alberto Giacometti in Postwar Paris, exh. cat., Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, 2001, pp. 31-32).
Giacometti then embarked upon the unprecedented, elongated, and attenuated figures in his visionary, weightless style, which for many observers embodied the existentialist angst of the early post-war, Cold War era. Following their debut at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, key works that Giacometti had completed in 1947—L’homme au doigt, L’homme qui marche, and Tête sur tige—quickly attained an iconic status, and accorded the artist the initial rush of his current international fame.
A scion of Tête sur tige, the present sculpture is a distinctive, stand-alone exercise in the creation of heads that Giacometti needed for the male figures and busts he would feature in his next Pierre Matisse show, in 1950: La Cage, La Fôret, Homme qui marche sous la pluie, Homme qui chavire, La Place II, and Trois hommes qui marchent. Giacometti subsequently made the male head and bust—then working directly from life, with his brother Diego as his primary model—a chief object of study during the 1950s.