In 1954 Giacometti was commissioned to produce a medal commemorating the long and productive career of Henri Matisse, who was then eighty-five years old. Giacometti traveled twice from Paris to Nice, in June-July and then again in September, to visit the elderly and ailing painter, who was living at the Htel Regina in nearby Cimiez. In a number of daily sessions Giacometti drew Matisse, sometimes depicting him at work at his table. The photographer Brassa recalled how Matisse's model Lydia would read aloud in order to distract Matisse, who found even short sessions uncomfortable and tiring. Matisse died in November. Giacometti made two small medallions in clay showing Matisse's head in profile; these were cast in bronze only after Giacometti's death in 1966.
Giacometti drew the present study of himself while back in his own hotel room after completing the Matisse sketches. Just as he had drawn Matisse, Giacometti here depicts himself at work, sketchbook in his lap; he is possibly looking at a full-length mirror in his hotel room.
Giacometti drew and painted numerous self-portraits in his youth, not an uncommon practice for a young artist in the process of self-discovery, but after the Second World War he painted only one self-portrait, and drew himself only on rare occasions. The visits to the elderly Matisse may have inspired Giacometti to take this unusual look at himself while at work.
This self-portrait is also a tribute to Giacometti's wife Annette (see lot 348). Her portrait is propped up on an end table seen at the side of the artist. It is possibly a small oil portrait painted in 1954 (showing Annette's head and shoulders close up) that Giacometti took with him on his trip, or a portrait drawn from memory.
This study is in essence a complete self-portrait; he records himself, and at the same time testifies to the significance of the work he has chosen as his career, and he also pays homage to the enduring power and strength of his most important personal relationship, that with his wife Annette.