The years immediately following the close of World War II have been widely recognized as a pivotal phase for Giacometti, the "years of decision" according to Yves Bonnefoy, the "period of realization" according to Herbert Matter. During this brief span of time, Giacometti affected what can only be termed a revolution in his characteristic mode of artistic expression, trading the tiny figures of the war years for the tall, extremely slender figures for which he is best known. It was also at this time that Giacometti first attained wide-scale public recognition; little known upon his return to Paris in 1946, by 1948 his status was such that he was granted a one-man exhibition of his recent work at the gallery of New York dealer Pierre Matisse.
One of the central themes of Giacometti's work during this period is the walking man. Between 1946 and 1950, Giacometti made numerous sculptures of striding figures, sometimes alone and sometimes in a group. Because several of the original plasters for the single-figure compositions have been lost or destroyed, it is difficult to determine their exact sequence with certainty. Nonetheless, it is clear that the present composition, conceived in 1950, represents a culmination of the series, the short, hesitant step of earlier examples like Homme qui marche I, 1947 (fig. 1) replaced here with a wide, dynamic stride. The same stance reappears in drawings and paintings of the same year, indicating Giacometti's fascination with its expressive potential (fig. 2).
The pose of the figure in Homme qui marche III, with its pronounced forward tilt, is not unlike Giacometti's own gait. It has also been noted that Giacometti, like his walking men, had unusually long arms. These parallels suggest that the present sculpture may be read as an expression of Giacometti's experience of his own body, of a personal search for physical equilibrium which Bonnefoy sees as a metaphor for life itself: "now that he wants to reveal the fact of being, the fact of a man alive, moving forward among other men, he has the means to observe it in his own body, in order to revive it in his work" (Y. Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, Paris, 1991, p. 326). The figure in Homme qui marche III moves with a light yet steady step, "always striving, ever seeking, never at peace" (V.J. Fletcher, exh. cat., Alberto Giacometti 1901-1966, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., 1988, p. 218).
Like most of the figures from this period of Giacometti's career, the figure in the present work is composed of thin, almost insubstantial lines, epitomizing the gaunt proportions which have become Giacometti's signature. Asked about the lean silhouette of his post-war figures during a 1964 interview with David Sylvester, Giacometti replied simply, "I did try to fight against it; I tried to make them broader, the narrower they go" (quoted in exh. cat., Giacometti: Sculptures, Paintings, Drawings, 1913-1965, Tate Gallery, London, 1981, p. 6). The emaciated appearance of Giacometti's figures has been seen by some as an effort to render visually the precarious nature of the human condition in the modern age; one proponent of this Existentialist reading is Peter Selz, who wrote in 1959 of the art of Giacometti along that of with Jean Dubuffet, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and others:
The revelations and complexities of mid-twentieth century life have called forth a profound feeling of solitude and anxiety. The imagery of man which has evolved from this reveals a new dignity, sometimes despair, but always the uniqueness of man as he confronts his fate. Like Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Camus, these artists are aware of anguish and dread, of life in which man -- precarious and vulnerable, confronts the precipice, is aware of dying as well as living. (P. Selz, exh. cat., New Images of Man, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1959, p. 11)
Others have linked the extreme thinness of the figure in Giacometti's sculpture to contemporary interest in the field of phenomonology, reading it as a way of addressing the tension created by the physical and perceptual distance which separates artist, model, and viewer. As Sartre wrote in the introduction to the catalogue of Giacometti's first exhibition at Pierre Matisse in 1948, midway through the artist's work on his "walking man" series:
When [sculptors] worked from nature, instead of rendering what they saw--that is to say, the model, ten paces off--they outlined in the clay what they knew to be there--that is to say, the model. As they wanted their statue to give a spectator standing ten feet off from it the impression they had experienced before the model, it seemed to them logical to make a figure which would be for the spectator what the model had been for them; and that was only possible if the marble were here as the model were there. But what does it mean to be "as it is" or "there"? At ten paces, I form a certain image of that nude woman; if I approach her, and regard her from up close, I no longer recognize her: these craters, tunnels, cracks, this rough black hair, these smooth shiny surfaces, this whole lunar orography; how could all these qualities go to compose the sleek fresh skin that I admired from far off? What is it then that the sculptor ought to imitate? However close he comes to this face, one can approach closer still. Thus the statue will never truly resemble what the model is or what the sculptor sees; one must construct it in accordance with certain rather contradictory conventions, imagining certain details which are not visible so far off, under the pretext that they exist, and neglecting certain others which exist just the same, under the pretext that one does not see them. (J.-P. Sartre, "The Search for the Absolute," in exh. cat., Alberto Giacometti: Exhibition of Sculpture, Paintings, Drawings, Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, 1948)
Herbert Matter made similar observations:
Upon first seeing Giacometti's work, I thought this sense of distance, of farawayness, to be a generalized feeling, a sort of emotional ambience, and a tour de force to accomplish. I did not immediately recognize the simple fact that it was the representation, the precise representation of the appearance, or rather his sensation of the appearance, of the model at the distance separating him from it. This became clear to me in the case of a larger bust of Diego that I saw for the first time...across a tremendous space several galleries away. It was startlingly close to me. As I drew nearer it never got any closer nor did it ever get further away, however far I walked in the opposite direction. (H. Matter, op. cit., p. 208)
The skeletal anatomy of Homme qui marche III also relates to the figures in works like La place II, 1948 (Hohl, p. 139) and Trois hommes qui marchent II, 1948-1949 (fig. 3). Both of these works were conceived in undeniably urban contexts, their platforms derived from the notion of the city square and their juxtaposition of striding figures suggesting the way that city-dwellers pass without stopping, speaking, even seeing each other. Valerie Fletcher has proposed that individual walking men such as the present sculpture also bear witness to this interest in the fundamental solitude of twentieth-century urban life; this reading is bolstered by the fact that certain of the single-figure compositions like Homme qui marche sous la pluie, 1948 (fig. 4) are set upon pedestals very similar to those of the multi-figure works. Giacometti himself described this concern with the psychological drama of the modern city, recalling that upon leaving a cinema in 1945 he suddenly had a new sense of the people and the space around him:
People seemed like a completely foreign species, mechanical... mindless machines, like men in the street who come and go...a bit like ants, each one going about his business, alone, ignored by the others... In the street, people astound and interest me more than any sculpture or painting. Every second the people stream together and go apart, they approach each other to get closer to one another. They unceasingly form and reform compositions in unbelievable complexity... It's the totality of this life that I want to reproduce in everything I do. (Quoted in P. Schneider, "Ma longue marche par Alberto Giacometti," L'Express, 8 June 1961, pp. 48-50)
(fig. 1) Alberto Giacometti, Homme qui marche I, 1947
Alberto Giacometti Foundation, Zurich
(fig. 2) Alberto Giacometti, Homme qui marche, 1950
(fig. 3) Alberto Giacometti, Trois hommes qui marchent II, 1948-1949
Private collection (sale, Christie's, New York, 14 May 1997, lot 12)
(fig. 4) Alberto Giacometti, Homme qui marche sous la pluie, 1948
Alberto Giacometti Foundation, Zurich
(fig. 5) Henri Cartier-Bresson, Giacometti installing his sculpture at Galerie Maieght, Paris, 1961