Alberto Giacometti

His purpose was to express the “totality of life” and “find the real through external
experiences”. He was celebrated for his elongated figures that followed his break from the
surrealists. But, who was Alberto Giacometti?
Alberto Giacometti was born in 1901 in the Italian speaking town Borgonova,
Switzerland. Being the son of Giovanni Giacometti, an impressionist painter, he was encouraged
in art at an early age. Giacometti had great confidence in his drafting ability at the age of 10, and
at 14 he began sculpting. When he turned twenty, he moved to Paris to continue his studies but
shortly returned home.
Back home, Alberto Giacometti studied with the famous sculpture Bourdelle. With him he
drew and sculpted with models. Though, in 1925 he gave up working with live models and in a
few years he had begun to achieved a measure of fame.
In the late 20s, Giacometti was invited by Andre Breton to join the Surrealists. Surrealism
is an artistic and literary movement that explored and celebrated the realm of dreams and the
unconscious mind through the creation of motion pictures, poetry, and in this case, visual art.
Many surrealists rejected the artistic conventions of the past, while seeking to preserve their best
traditions. They sought to demonstrate, as Breton said, “that no limits can be set to human
Like the most of the surrealists of his time, Giacometti’s art was guided by the aim of
revolutionizing art and perception. He used surrealist techniques that tapped into his unconscious
mind. Giacometti began using objects as representations of more abstract concepts. Many of his
works involve a figure or dismembered appendage trapped or precariously hanging.
In 1932, Alberto Giacometti left the surrealist group for a brief period of time because of
his interests in the mysteries of the human figure. This act put him at odds with the surrealists and
he became wary of any kind of socially organizing principles in politics or art. The years that
followed, between 1930 and 1940, are considered to be his years of crisis.
In 1933, Giacometti’s random way of putting together volumes and his equally
unnecissary distortion of the human body took him somewhere. The sculpture, “Walking Woman”
was constructed.
The life size, bronze sculpture was headless and armless. It’s slenderly stylized and is
noticeably a woman’s figure. The left leg and foot are placed slightly in front of the other and
barely seems to be moving forward. The mysterious aura of its presence and unusual sense of
forward motion are characteristics in “Walking Woman” that were quite visible in the last twenty
years of Giacometti’s works.
When the statue was exhibited in 1933, it was fitted with wooden arms and the scroll of a
cello as a head and other devices to serve as hands. Though, as time passed, Giacometti dropped
these surrealist pieces. This headless, armless figure seemed as a revelation for the artist.
In 1936 Pierre Matisse, an art dealer, purchased “Walking Woman”. This was a significant
choice do to the fact that the statue was the beginning of the distinguishing works of the last
twenty years of Giacometti’s life. To Matisse’s eyes, none of Giacometti’s future works were
worth buying.
In 1934 Giacometti began working from models again. Because of this, the surrealist
group expelled him for his diversion and regarded it as “retrograde”. The years that followed,
Giacometti alternated between life and memory. Oddly enough, the typical characteristics of his
works, elongated distortions and two-dimention characteristics, were much more pronounced
when a live model was used.
Following the German invasion of W.W.II, Giacometti left Paris and stayed in Switzerland
until 1945. While in Switzerland, Giacometti met Annette Arn, whom he married in 1949. He was
kept from the military service because of a disability he acquired after being struck by a car prior
to the war. During the time of the war, Alberto Giacometti suffered from anxiety and his
sculptures seemed to be getting smaller and smaller. According to Giacometti, he could not
explain why his statues became so small. “I could not understand it. All my statues ended up one
centimeter high. One more touch and hop! the statue vanishes.” Though, some inferred that his
sensitivity to the nature of human existence was intensified by the horror of the war.
Toward the end of his life, Giacometti had come to the conclusion that he did not need to
leave his studio to find the world. For the majority of his future life, Giacometti concentrated on
depicting three themes: a portrait of a head, a woman standing, and a man