In 1927, Giacometti sculpted three portrait heads of his parents. Two depict his father and mother and are modeled with rounded, conventional contours. The present motif is the third, also of his painter father, Giovanni, and displays an extreme degree of simplification. The head is flattened, and his father's features are sharply incised. Giacometti sought to resolve the contradictory ideas of sculptural mass and detail by simplifying his forms, and this portrait would lead directly to the sculptures plates which he exhibited at the Galerie Jeanne Bucher in 1928 and first brought him recognition as an important sculptor.
Of Giacometti's sculptural preoccupations of the late 1920s, Angel González has written: "coinciding with his return to painting and with the discovery that his numb hands not only wished to take hold of things but to pursue and twist them, to manipulate them relentlessly, Giacometti rediscovered the charms of modelling. Although he had never stopped working in clay and had only exceptionally tried his hand at direct carving, most of the heads he had continued to produce almost secretly between 1925 and 1935 appear to be carved rather than modelled, worked as one would work with a material which was compact yet not too hard--a mass of chalk or a brick--cutting, scraping, engraving...Tête du père of 1927 in the Giacometti Foundation in Zurich was executed in a similar fashion to Cube or Tête-Crâne of 1934, that is to say, stimulating the arduous work of direct carving that Brancusi had updated. Therefore the axe that appeared in Brassaí's photograph of Giacometti's atelier published in Minotaure was not there to recall the fate awaiting the snake in Project pour une place, and which had already been fulfilled in Femme égorgée, but so as to suggest that it could have been carved by means of the blows of an axe, like Brancusi's Endless Column and many tribal sculptures" (Alberto Giacometti, Works, Writings, Interviews, Barcelona, 2006, pp. 106-107).
Cast and exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Art Institute of Chicago in the artist's lifetime, the present work was owned by legendary dealer Ernst Beyeler and subsequently acquired at Christie's in 1989, where it doubled the then-record result for any pre-1930 work by the artist.
(fig. 1) Giovanni Giacometti, Selbstportrait, 1923. Sold, Christie's, Zurich, 19 March 2007, lot 71.