Giacometti’s Figurines, a rare multi-figure composition by the artist, shows silhouettes emerging from the shadows of an indeterminate space--possibly a studio or a stage. The work was painted in 1954, the same year Giacometti completed some of his most significant portraits, including Buste de Diego, which together represent the epitome of his achievement as a painter.
The intensely worked canvas, which employs a smaller format that is not uncommon to the period, embodies the artist’s tireless endeavour and his never-ending quest to capture the essential presence of being. However, the desired outcome, as the artist would eventually freely concede, was impossible to achieve. ‘From the mid-1950s on,’ David Sylvester observed, ‘the paintings and sculptures alike became increasingly expressive of the difficulties in making them’ (quoted in, Looking at Giacometti, New York, 1994, p. 82).
The heavy concentration of impasto in the background and the dense accumulation of strokes that form the bodies are evidence that Giacometti worked on the canvas for an extended period of time. Typically, Giacometti employed small, tentative lines to build up a rich, almost sculpted surface with deliberately blurred outlines. This technique mirrors his sculpture in which the surfaces are rough and almost undefined, creating a sense of shifting contours.
The figures, and the space they are supposed to belong in, fuse and split simultaneously, creating a complex and conflicting effect. ‘The visionary quality that Giacometti wanted to convey is not of the fleeting impression,’ Christian Klemm wrote, ‘Rather, it was the essential presence of the human being…as in an epiphany: “to create [Giacometti declared] a complete whole all at once”’ (quoted in, exh. cat., Alberto Giacometti, New York, 2001, p. 222).
The image is defined by darker painted borderlines that frame the work, an aspect characteristic of the artist’s paintings. When asked why he employed the frame technique, Giacometti explained that it was, ‘because I do not determine the true space of the figure until after it is finished...I try to fictionalise my painting...And also because my figures need a sort of no man's land’ (‘Alberto Giacometti, “Autres propos”’, 1965 in P. Schneider, Alberto Giacometti dessins, exh. cat., Paris 1985, p. 83).
The three figurines, two apparently on bases, stand hauntingly still. This composition is reminiscent of the multi-figure sculpture La clairière, conceived in 1950, in which nine vertical slender and motionless figures rise elegantly from the ground. The artist himself would associate these feminine figures with trees, hinting at a Surrealist interest in the subconscious, that the mind interprets what it sees independent of actual form. Figurine possesses a similar quality. There seems to be no interaction between the figures which infuses the work with a deeply serene atmosphere. Contrastingly, small strokes of crimson red, ochre, lemon yellow and ultramarine pigments glow through the rich grey overtone. The delicately shimmering colours disquiet the composition and further complicate the form and space. The ethereal figures captured in pale paint, like disembodied spirits, loom forth from the twilight of memory.