The present work is an iconic rendering of Giacometti's younger brother Diego, arguably his most important model, who played a central role in the artist's personal and professional life. Diego devoted a major part of his own artistic career to assisting Alberto with his sculpture and supervising the casting of his bronzes. By the early 1950s, Alberto had gained considerable critical recognition in Paris and had amassed a broad clientele, while Diego had just begun to design the bronze furniture which would finally make him famous in his own right. Well aware of his younger brother's talent, Alberto encouraged Diego to pursue his own career. Nevertheless, Alberto relied heavily upon his brother's expertise and recognised him as indispensable in the production of the numerous innovative sculptures that had secured Alberto a contract with the Galerie Maeght in 1950.
Discussing the sculptures executed during this period, Yves Bonnefoy wrote: 'These sculpted faces compel one to face them as if one were speaking to the person, meeting his eyes and thereby understanding better the compression, the narrowing that Giacometti imposed on the chin or the nose or the general shape of the skull. This was the period when Giacometti was most strongly conscious of the fact that the inside of the plaster or clay mass which he modelled was something inert, undifferentiated, nocturnal, that it betrays the life he sought to represent, and that he must therefore strive to eliminate this purely spatial dimension by constricting the material to fit the most prominent characteristics of the face. This is exactly what he achieves with amazing vigour when, occasionally, he gave Diego's face a blade-like narrowness - drawing seems to have eliminated the plaster, the head has escaped from space - and demands therefore that the spectator stand in front of the sculpture as he did himself, disregarding the back and sides of his model and as bound to a face-to-face relationship' (Y. Bonnefoy, op. cit., p. 432).
The present work displays a composition that characterised many painted and sculpted portrayals of Diego of the 1950s: a slender, elegant head rises from a voluminous bust. The contrast between the two shapes creates a dynamic power unique to Giacometti's portrayals of his brother. Patrick Elliot wrote about the stunning visual effect of Giacometti's bronzes such as Buste de Diego: 'In conversations, Giacometti observed enormous differences between a side view and a frontal view of an object, as if the two were completely separate things that could not possibly be rendered in a single sculpture. Giacometti normally represented figures as very frontal forms, and is reported to have said that: "when a person appeals to us or fascinates us we don't walk all around him. What impresses us about his appearance requires a certain distance"' (P. Elliot, Alberto Giacometti (exhibition catalogue), Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh & Kunsthalle, Vienna, 1996, p. 172).
This emphasis on the frontality of his figures was partly inspired by the art of ancient civilisations, as is suggested by the title of the present work. Aménophis or Amenhotep was the name of four pharaohs who ruled during the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt. The solidity of form displayed by Egyptian sculpture, as well as the innovative juxtaposition of frontal and side views in Egyptian painting, were certainly important sources of inspiration for Giacometti. Combined with the philosophical preoccupations of his own time, as well as with a highly personal approach to his subject, they resulted in some of the most original images of modernist sculpture.
Fig. 1, Diego and Alberto Giacometti
Fig. 2, Alberto Giacometti with a bust of Diego
Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Alberto Giacometti, sculptures, peintures, dessins, 1991-92, no. 206, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (titled Petit buste sur socle (Aménophis))
Height: 37.8cm. 14 7/8 in.
Palma Bucarelli, Giacometti, Rome, 1962, no. 50, illustration of another cast (titled Bust of the Brother Diego and as dating from 1952-53)
Bernard Lamarche-Vadel, Alberto Giacometti, Paris, 1984, no. 218, illustration of another cast p. 151 (titled Buste mince)
Herbert & Mercedes Matter, Giacometti, New York, 1987, illustrations of another cast pp. 77, 116 & 117
Tahar Ben Jelloun, Alberto Giacometti, Paris, 1991, illustration of another cast p. 19
Yves Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti. A Biography of his Work, Paris, 1991, illustration of another cast p. 441
Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, L'Atelier d'Alberto Giacometti, Paris, 2007, no. 203, illustration of the plaster p. 405
Galerie Maeght, Paris
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
Sale: Christie's, New York, 15th May 1990, lot 72
Galerie Jan Krugier, Geneva
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1999