The Comité Giacometti has confirmed the authenticity of this work. It will be included in the catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Foundation Alberto and Annette Giacometti.
This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Association Alberto and Annette Giacometti and Mary Lisa Palmer.
The landmark exhibition at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, in 1947 established Giacometti's reputation internationally, creating intense interest in his paintings and sculptures that continued to grow to the end of his career less than two decades later. Many of his works entered esteemed collections, both public and private, during his lifetime, and many more afterwards. No other sculpture, however, carries a provenance as singular and distinguished as this cast of Buste de femme aux bras croisées, which is accompanied by a fascinating and delightful anecdote as well.
The great modern painter Balthus (Balthazar Klossowski de Rola; 1908-2001) was one of Giacometti's closest longtime friends; he acquired this sculpture as a gift from Giacometti shortly after it was cast in bronze. Countess Klossowski de Rola, the late artist's wife, recalls:
"In the early 1960s, Balthus visited the studio of his sculptor friend Alberto Giacometti, who was working on a female bust of Francine Torrent at the time. Giacometti turned to Balthus and inquired: 'So what do you think?' The painter, clearly moved, was quick to reply: "Why, it is fantastic!' and Giacometti turned to him and said 'Well then, it is yours.'
"Madame Torrent was a young television journalist and who had visited Giacometti's studio just a few weeks prior, in the hopes of interviewing the sculptor. Upon entering the studio, she immediately peppered Giacometti with questions, whose only response was 'stop asking me all these questions, sit down, pose for me, don't move and please keep quiet.' With wry humor and characteristic wit, he titled the sculpture with a play on words, 'Madame Télé,' ('Mrs. TV').
"Balthus adored this bronze, and it followed him wherever he went. During his tenure at the Villa Medici from 1961 until 1977, when he served as Directeur de l'Académie de France à Rome, it was proudly displayed in the living room. One day, the Villa was burglarized and among the objects taken was his treasured Giacometti sculpture. Fortunately the Italian police managed to recover it only a few weeks later. To this day, it remains the only piece to have been recovered from the theft."
We are grateful to Countess Klossowski de Rola for kindly providing this text.
Balthus met Giacometti in 1933, when the sculptor was at the height of his involvement with the Surrealists. The group had hoped to recruit Balthus, whose work they admired, to their cause. Balthus remembered that "Giacometti came to see me one day with a group of Surrealists [together with André Breton, Paul Eluard and Georges Hugnet]. So we got talking. We saw each other again after that and became good friends. Alberto had enough of Breton's authoritarian attitude, his doctrinaire way of seeing things, life, art Alberto was tired of having all his opinions scrutinized by a narrow-minded tribunal. Whatever the case, Alberto didn't want to go on making cage-constructions. 'What I am now interested in,' he said to me, 'is putting a nose in the middle of a face.' 'Why heads,' asked Breton, 'anyone can do that!' Giacometti, on the other hand, felt that it was extremely hard to make a head" (quoted in Le Figaro, 26 November 1991, p. 28; trans. in R. Hohl, ed., Giacometti: A Biography in Pictures, Ostfilden-Ruit, 1998, pp. 80-81).
Balthus and Giacometti became close friends, sharing in their art, as different as it was, a commitment to ideas that ran counter to prevailing tastes among the avant-garde, which disdained a traditional approach to the figure. Giacometti was interested in Balthus' painting, because the latter worked from a model; Giacometti was now eager to do the same. His engagement with Surrealism came to an end two years later. Giacometti wrote, "My final separation from the Surrealists came from the need to work from life, to hire a model. When I did that, the Surrealists considered it a reactionary and treacherous activity" (quoted in ibid., p. 83).
Giacometti created the great attenuated figures of the late 1940s, the iconic upward-thrusting sculptures that seemed shorn of volume, pressed in at the sides by the great void which surrounds them, from memory and imagination. After 1950 he returned again to the model, painting and modeling portraits in sessions that lasted hours, using his wife Annette, his brother Diego and a few others as his sitters, the only people willing to subject themselves to the rigors of this demanding process. Yves Bonnefoy has written, "He wanted them to have a face, to be the real presence of an individual recognized and represented as such" (in Alberto Giacometti: A Biography of his Work, Paris, 1991, p. 368).
In the early 1960s, following the female figures of the Femme de Venise series (see lot 6) and the Grandes femmes debouts that he intended for the Chase Manhattan Bank Plaza project in New York, Giacometti again concentrated on the portrait, in painting and sculpture. He continued to use only a few familiar people as his sitters; it was indeed a rare event that he would ask a stranger, Mme Torrent in this case, to pose for him. His characterization had now become more precise, and to this end, he made gestures in the upper body posture more expressive and emotionally revealing, as seen in the crossed arms of the present figure, and in painted portraits during this period (fig. 1). Most importantly, as Hohl has noted, "their 'gaze' acquires a new intensity" (op. cit., p. 167).
"What interest me most about the head," Giacometti said, "well, actually the whole head interests me, but I think now I might succeed in constructing the eye as exactly as possible, and when I've got that, when I've got the base of the nose. But to take the eye: I mean the curvature of the eyeball--from that everything else should develop... There are few artworks in which the gaze exists... In none of my sculptures since the war have I represented the eye precisely. I indicate the position of the eye. And I very often use a vertical line in place of the pupil. It's the curve of the eyeball one sees. And it gives the impression of the gaze... When I get the curve of the eyeball right, then I've got the socket, when I've got the socket, I've got the nostrils, the point of the nose, the mouth... and all of this together might just produce the gaze, without one's having to concentrate on the eye itself" (from a 1965 film on Giacometti by Ernst Scheidigger and Peter Münger, quoted in ibid.).
The sculpted portraits of Giacometti evoke an almost terrifying stillness and silence, against which the sheer presence of the individual becomes all the more concrete and compelling. These busts are nonetheless each the record of an interaction, a dialogue between the sculptor and his model conceived in visual and tactile terms. David Sylvester observed that "The interest in working so relentlessly from a model--sacrificing the mental distance from reality that encourages creative freedom--probably lay to some extent in human interaction. Giacometti was an extremely inner directed-man, but he was not solitary. He enjoyed talking and listening, above all in a one-to-one situation... And when the talk had to stop for the real work to take over, this involved a still more absorbing interaction... The living model provided him with someone to be apart from, someone to situate in a work at a certain distance, someone whose presence opposite him established his separate existence. At the same time, working from that person also guaranteed a gratifying sense of failure, inasmuch as any artist working from nature is unremittingly taunted by his awareness that he is failing to make the artifact in front of him match the reality in front of him" (in Looking at Giacometti, New York, 1994, p. 119).
(fig. 1) Alberto Giacometti, Caroline, 1962. The Art Institute of Chicago. BARCODE 20625313