Alberto Giacometti

(1901—1966) Swiss sculptor and painter

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Swiss sculptor, painter, and draughtsman, who is best known for the thin elongated figures that he produced after World War II.

Son of the postimpressionist painter Giovanni Giacometti (d. 1883), Alberto was born in an Alpine village in the Italian part of Switzerland. He studied painting and sculpture in Geneva and Italy before settling in Paris in 1922. His early sculpture was impressionistic but he became interested in primitive sculpture and after a two-year cubist period began in 1927 to produce highly simplified figures reminiscent of primitive Mediterranean idols. Giacometti produced a large number of paintings and brilliant drawings throughout his life but during the period 1929–35, when he was associated with the surrealist movement, these began to take second place. The most famous of his imaginary surrealist constructions is his open skeletal construction of glass, wood, wire, and string, The Palace at 4 am.

In 1935 he broke with the surrealists, having determined to concentrate on the expression of human reality as he perceived it. The heads and figures that he produced became increasingly minute after 1937. He spent World War II in Geneva, returning in 1945 to Paris, where two years later he found the mature style upon which his fame now largely depends. The tall volumeless figures of this period were modelled with a thin roughly textured coating of plaster of Paris on wire. A great deal has been said and written about the meaning and intentions of Giacometti's art – however, much of it was apparently as enigmatic to him as it was to others. His view of man was influenced by the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre; this existential view of life as a losing game without the possibility of real communication is reflected in his emaciated, apparently distant, figures and in his own dissatisfaction with much of his work. His portrait paintings, usually executed in dull colours or grey, and his drawings have many of the qualities of his sculpture.

His style continued to develop: the 1950s saw the appearance of his painted narrow heads on massive shoulders and in the 1960s he produced more monumental heads and figures. He won the Carnegie Sculpture Prize in 1961, the Grand Prix for sculpture at the Venice Biennale in 1962, and the Guggenheim International Award for Painting in 1964.

Subjects: Art.

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