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Alberto Giacometti

Swiss Sculptor and Painter

Alberto Giacometti Photo

Born: October 10, 1901 - Stampa, Graubunden, Switzerland

Died: January 11, 1966 - Chur, Graubunden, Switzerland

"All the art of the past rises up before me, the art of all ages and all civilizations, everything becomes simultaneous, as if space had replaced time. Memories of works of art blend with affective memories, with my work, with my whole life."

Alberto Giacometti Signature

Summary of Alberto Giacometti

Alberto Giacometti's remarkable career traces the shifting enthusiasms of European art before and after the Second World War. As a Surrealist in the 1930s, he devised innovative sculptural forms, sometimes reminiscent of toys and games. And as an Existentialist after the war, he led the way in creating a style that summed up the philosophy's interests in perception, alienation and anxiety. Although his output extends into painting and drawing, the Swiss-born and Paris-based artist is most famous for his sculpture. And he is perhaps best remembered for his figurative work, which helped make the motif of the suffering human figure a popular symbol of post-war trauma.

Key Ideas

Giacometti's work of the 1930s represents probably the most important contribution to Surrealist sculpture. In an effort to explore themes derived from Freudian psychoanalysis, like sexuality, obsession and trauma, he developed a variety of different sculptural objects. Some were influenced by primitive art, but perhaps most striking were those that resemble games, toys, and architectural models. They almost encourage the viewer to physically interact with them, an idea which was very radical at the time.
In the late 1930s, Giacometti abandoned abstraction and Surrealism, becoming more interested in how to represent the human figure in a convincing illusion of real space. He wanted to depict figures in such a way as to capture a palpable sense of spatial distance, so that we, as viewers, might share in the artist's own sense of distance from his model, or from the encounter that inspired the work. The solution he arrived at involved whittling the figures down to the slenderest proportions.
Giacometti's post-war achievement - finding a language through which to represent the figure in real space - impressed the many writers of the period who were interested in Phenomenology and Existentialism. Both of these philosophies contained ideas about self-consciousness and how we relate to other human beings, and Giacometti's art was thought to powerfully capture the tone of melancholy, alienation and loneliness that these ideas suggested.
Although the 1950s art world of both Europe and the United States was dominated by abstract painting, Giacometti's figurative sculpture came to be a hugely influential model of how the human figure might return to art. His figures represented human beings alone in the world, turned in on themselves and failing to communicate with their fellows, despite their overwhelming desire to reach out.
Alberto Giacometti in Paris (April 22, 1952)

Calling it “a complete transformation of reality,” Giacometti was struck by a vision after leaving a cinema in Paris. Trembling with fear, he entered a familiar café and was met by a waiter, “his eyes fixed in an absolute immobility.” Subsequently, he began sculpting the tall emaciated figures with prominent heads that evoked the existential angst of the post World War II era.

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