Together with Giacometti's studies of his wife Annette (see lot 348) and his brother Diego, the visage of French philosopher and novelist Jean-Paul Sartre is among the most recognizable in the artist's drawings. With his solid features, full lips, hair combed closely to the scalp and thick glasses, Sartre was a characterful subject for Giacometti's intense and probing linear style. These portraits are the record of a long friendship, and a significant intellectual partnership as well.
Giacometti first met Sartre in a Paris caf in 1939. The two men became known for the brilliance of their conversations, and each deeply influenced the other's thinking. In 1948 Sartre contributed the essay "The Search for the Absolute" to the catalogue of Giacometti's first exhibition at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York, and thereafter the sculptor's work became closely identified with the new philosophy of existentialism, in which man in his solitude strove amid the absence of meaning within an unpredictable and precarious universe.
While Giacometti accepted his role as an exponent of the contemporary psyche as formed by the anxiety of the post-war era, he was generally uncomfortable when his works were burdened with other men's philosophical or ideological stances. Indeed, his views on the notion of the inherent solitude of the individual contradict that of the existentialists:
"I have absolutely no intention of being an artist of solitude. Moreover, I must add that as a citizen and a thinking being I believe that all life is the opposite of solitude, for life consists of a fabric of relations with others. The society in which we live in the West has made it necessary in a sense for me to pursue my activities in solitude. For many years it was hard for me to work isolated from society (but not, I hope, isolated from humanity). There is so much talk about the malaise throughout the world and about existential anguish, as if it were something new. All people have felt that, and at all periods. One has only to read the Greek and Latin writers!" (quoted in J. Lord, Giacometti: A Biography, New York, 1985, pp. 309-310).
Sartre and Giacometti remained close friends until 1962 when the philosopher published Words, his autobiography. In it he referred to an incident that took place shortly before they met, in which Giacometti was struck and badly injured by a car. Sartre altered certain facts about the event and interpreted the consequences in such a way that Giacometti believed the writer had betrayed the truth. They had a falling out and were never reconciled.
There is on the reverse of the sheet an unfinished pencil sketch of a seated young man seen in profile.