This extensively painted bronze cast of Tête sans crâne belongs to the great series of male heads and busts that Giacometti created during the mid-1950s, "which are as famous as they are beautiful," as Yves Bonnefoy has written. "These sculpted faces compel one to face them as if one were speaking to the person, meeting his eyes" (op. cit. 1991, p. 432). Throughout this period Giacometti continued to radically reshape the form of the human head, in this work cutting down the rear of the cranium, so that when viewed in profile, the head appears to dissolve beyond a diadem of thick wavy hair into space. The sculptor included this cast in his special exhibition at the 1962 Venice Biennale, for which he painted it; the fleshy reddish, ochre and white tones create an uncannily intimate, vital and powerfully riveting presence.
By 1950, Giacometti felt that he had exhausted the possibilities inherent in the attenuated, stick-like figures that he made in his elongated, weightless style during the late 1940s. He now sought to reclaim a more realistic and concrete sense of space, without sacrificing the acute degree of intensity that he had invested in his work, a defining quality that he had worked so long and hard to achieve. Just as he had done in the mid-1930s, when he gave up his surrealist and abstract manner, Giacometti once again became committed to working from a living model, such as his wife Annette or more often his brother Diego. The intimate nature of these relationships did much to inspire the deeply felt emotional concentration of these new sculptures. Bonnefoy has written: "Giacometti had indeed chosen the existence of individuals, the here and now as the chief object of his new and future study; and that he instinctively realized that this object transcended all artistic signs and representations, since it was no less than life itself" (ibid., p. 369).
Giacometti's purpose in re-engaging with a living, present model was not to describe a realistic resemblance of any conventional kind; instead he sought to create a palpable and convincing representation of the reality of being, as perceived in space--as Pierre Schneider observed in 1961, "approximations that are somehow truer than a real person" (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit. Paris, 2007, p. 35). "For Giacometti," Christian Klemm has pointed out, "it was the essential presence of the human being, as it appears to the artist, that he sought to grasp--the ceaseless dialogue between seeing and the seen, eye and hand, in which form continually grows and dissolves" (Alberto Giacometti, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2001, p. 222).
Diego's head was the likely inspiration for this sculpture, just as it was in the related and concurrent series, three works in all, of a male head set atop a stèle (fig. 1). An ever-present and absolute constant in his life, Diego had become the sculptor's most frequent and important model. It was typical of Alberto's execution of the plaster version (in this case, fig. 2) that he would continually build up and break down the image he held in his hands, an all-stakes encounter with being and nothingness, a struggle that found its most profound and powerful expression in the depiction of another man. It was indeed fortunate that this man was his brother, someone who was as close as possible to being a virtual extension of the artist himself. By obsessively concentrating on the particulars of a single individual, and probing them from sculpture to sculpture, Giacometti created a universal man. "[Diego] must have posed ten thousand times for me," the artist declared, "when he poses I no longer recognise him. I want him to pose so I can see what I see" (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 2007, p. 39). Véronique Wiesinger has written, "Giacometti's favorite models started to blend into one another... the heads of Diego and the self-portraits impossible to tell apart... In all but a few cases, his male heads combine the features of his brother, his own features, generic physiognomic traits and sculptures avidly copied from art history books" (ibid.). The result was a vision of humankind that was as poignant and revelatory in its presence, and as iconic for postwar sculpture in its importance, as the famous attenuated figures that Giacometti had created during the late 1940s.
The various sculptures of men that Giacometti executed before 1947-1950 stand full-length and are engaged in some sort of motion or activity. When these male subjects after 1950 instead took the form of heads or busts only, without a lower body and often shorn of their limbs, they became immobile in their pose. The sculptor now emphasized a conception of man now given over almost entirely to thought and a profound perception of his world, rather than to action. Giacometti believed that the most important sign of life is awareness, a faculty that is manifest in one's gaze. He declared, "If the gaze, that is life, is the main thing, then the head becomes the main thing, without a doubt. The rest of the body is limited to functioning as antennae that make people's life possible--the life that is housed in the skull" (quoted in R. Hohl, ed., Giacometti: A Biography in Pictures, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1998, p. 146).
Although Giacometti has here concentrated his attention on a frontal visage of Diego, and modeled his brother's head and neck only, it is but one aspect of this astonishing conception of the head, abbreviated in the rear, but also flattened on the sides with the result that it resembles the blade of a spade. A famous version of this approach is Grande Tête mince (the large head seen at center, fig. 3; another cast sold, Christie's, New York, 4 May 2010, lot 13).
Giacometti had long appreciated the fact, largely lost to view today, that the sculpture of antiquity and in Europe during the medieval period was painted to project a startling, lifelike effect. David Sylvester has noted that "Giacometti first colored some of his pieces while in Bourdelle's class, where he became impatient with monochrome sculpture... From the mid-1940s on, the plasters in the studio were often decorated with free linear drawing in black and rust, some of it indicating features, especially eyes, most of it freewheeling... presumably to break up the whiteness of the plaster. But about 1950 he began to paint some of the bronze casts completely, chiefly at that time and then when he painted them on site at the Venice Biennale in 1962 and again for the opening of the Fondation Maeght at St Paul de Vence in 1964. He certainly believed that in principle his sculpture ought to be coloured" (Looking at Giacometti, New York, 1994, p. 102).
Invited to participate in the 1962 Venice Biennale, where he was given his own non-national pavilion, Giacometti with his brother Diego travelled to Venice in early June to supervise the preparations. Showcasing some forty recent sculptures, including the massive standing women and male head he had created for the Chase Manhattan Plaza project in New York, with as many paintings, the exhibition was scheduled to open on the 16th. For nearly two weeks Alberto was busy in his allotted galleries continuously moving about his works for best effect, while frequently changing their bases (fig. 4). James Lord has recounted that "sculptures which in the northern light of Paris had had one appearance had another in the southern gleam of the lagoon. Alberto thought them too dark. Diego changed the patinas of some, while the artist went after others with paint and brush." (Giacometti: A Biography, New York, 1985, p. 443). It has been elsewhere recorded that "as late as the night before the opening he painted certain sculpture to enhance their effect" (C. Klemm, op. cit., p. 287).
By painting some of his sculptures Giacometti perhaps wanted to emphasize the connection between his work in three dimensions and on canvas. He actually went so far as to alter the appearance of works lent by collectors--Pierre Matisse, the artist's New York dealer, warned him that the owners might not be pleased, a suggestion which Giacometti coolly shrugged off. It was of far more concern to him that this important exhibition include works that represented his absolute latest ideas, his most fully realized vision. The Biennale committee awarded him the state prize for sculpture.
Artist & Models photo:
Giacometti with Diego and Annette, circa 1952. Photograph by Alexander Liberman.
(fig. 1) Alberto Giacometti, Buste de Diego (Stèle III), 1957-1958. Sold, Christie's, New York, 6 May 2009, lot 34.
(fig. 2) Alberto Giacometti, Tête sans crâne, 1957-1958. Plaster version photographed by Ernst Scheidegger in the artist's Paris studio.
(fig. 3) Alberto Giacometti, standing women and heads of Diego, mid-1950s. Photograph by Patricia Matisse, courtesy of the Pierre and Tania Matisse Foundation.
(fig. 4) Alberto Giacometti setting up the present cast of Tête sans crâne prior to the opening of the 1962 Venice Biennale. [Studio Barcode: 28853107
Tête sans crâne
PROPERTY OF A EUROPEAN COLLECTOR
Signed, numbered and inscribed with foundry mark 'Alberto Giacometti 2/6 Susse Fondeur Paris' (on the back of the base)
Alberto Giacometti , 20th Century, Sculptures, Statues & Figures, bronze, Switzerland, Modern, figures
Venice, XXXI Biennale esposizione internazionale d'arte, June-October 1962, no. 438.
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
Height (including base): 17 in. (43.5 cm.)
Y. Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, A Biography of His Work, Paris, 1991, p. 411, no. 392 (another cast illustrated).
E. Scheidegger, Alberto Giacometti, Sculpture in Plaster, Zurich, 2006, p. 87 (plaster version illustrated).
The Studio of Alberto Giacometti, Collection of the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, exh. cat., Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2007, p. 348 (illustrated in an installation photograph).
S. Berthoud, D. Rütimann, T. Dufrêne and N. Schneider, Alberto Giacometti, exh. cat., Geneva, 2009, p. 267 (another cast illustrated, p. 183).
M. Brüderlin and T. Stoos, Alberto Giacometti, The Origin of Space, exh. cat., Salzburg, 2011, p. 166 (another cast illustrated in color, p. 167).
The Alberto Giacometti Database, no. 2050.
The Alberto and Annette Giacometti Association Database, no. S-2012-6.
Galerie Maeght, Paris.
Private collection, Paris (circa 1975).
By descent from the above to the present owner.
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