The Comité Giacometti confirms the authenticity of this painting. It will be included in the catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Fondation Alberto and Annette Giacometti.
Giacometti did not paint from 1935, the year that marked the end of his involvement with Surrealism and his return to figuration, until after the end of the Second World War. He then had a terrifying vision, which he described in the 1946 text Le Rêve, Le Sphinx et la mort de T.: "I had begun to see heads in the void, in the space that surrounded them. The first time I saw a head I was looking at freeze, become fixed in that single instant forever, I trembled with terror as never before in my life. This was no longer a living head but an object that was dead and alive at the same time. I let out a cry of terror as if I had just crossed over a threshold, as if I had gone into a world that nobody had seen before" (reprinted in Alberto Giacometti in Paris, exh. cat., Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, 2001, pp. 31-32).
In response, Giacometti created his iconic, attenuated figures in sculpture, and resumed painting--"to know how I was seeing," as he later explained. Indeed, by 1950 his interest in painting had already led him away from the "visionary, weightless" figures that had recently won him world-wide acclaim. He had now chosen to devote himself to painting and modeling portraits, from life, of a few individuals--his wife Annette, his brother Diego, and some close friends--to study their essential human presence.
In 1957, however, Giacometti's compulsive obsession with his goals led him into a cul-de-sac, as he worked protractedly on a commissioned portrait of Isaku Yanaihara, a Japanese professor of philosophy. As much as the artist laid on paint, Yanaihara's features refused to take on presence, and by this time all perspectival indicators of surrounding space had disappeared, leaving the subject awash in a gray mire of paint. One solution was to make a virtue of this predicament--that is, accept the void, and re-assert the head. In practice, this is what Giacometti achieved in the present Portrait de Diego, "the splendid Diego of 1958" as the poet Yves Bonnefoy has called it. Bonnefoy further noted that "This last piece already belongs to the next and final phase" (op. cit., p. 426).
Portrait de Diego does indeed look forward to the haunting "Black Heads" of Diego that Giacometti painted in the 1960s to the end of life. This head, as in Giacometti's vision a decade earlier, is "fixed in that single instant forever," having coalesced into a riveting presence, Valerie Fletcher has written of the "Black Heads": "...Diego's visage served as a vehicle for Alberto's intuition of the human psyche, prey to an indefinable and frightening emotion, perhaps apprehensive of an inevitable and increasingly imminent death. These spectres were the most sombre extreme of Giacometti's vision of reality." (in Alberto Giacometti, exh. cat., Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, 1996, p. 30). Bonnefoy has observed that "In the portraits of Diego one even senses considerable disquiet, as well as great energy... In the presence of someone who is, as it were, his double, Giacometti more than ever is witness to the mystery of existence, like Hamlet thinking of Yorick, in front of a skull in the dust" (op. cit., pp. 426 and 432).