During the 20th century, modernist movements’ representation of the human form shifted from the lauded classical execution taught in academia to probing exploration into psychological, existential, and phenomenological of the subject and the viewer. One of the keynote artists to delve into such depths was Swiss-born Alberto Giacometti. His sculptures, paintings, and prints have been collected internationally and are held in major museums including MoMA, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Walker Art Center, The Art Institute of Chicago, SFMoMA, LACMA, and Tate Modern.
Giacometti is best revered as a sculptor, setting auctions records for works such as L'Homme au doigt (Pointing Man or Man Pointing), 1947 and L’Homme qui marche I (The Walking Man I) selling for $141.3 million in 2015 and L’Homme qui marche I (The Walking Man I) selling for $104.3 million in 2010. Even more so, he became accomplished in other artistic mediums including painting and drawing, being quoted, “When I make my drawings, the path tread by my pencil on the sheet of paper is to some extent, analogous of a man groping his way through the darkness”.
Within the scope of being a sculptor, he developed a full sense of agency as a draftsman, with the held belief that drawing was a central attribute to an artist. Payasge de Majola is based on a canvas piece (bearing the same title) during his painterly exploration. Within the painting and the colored lithograph depicting a viewpoint of his grandparents’ and parents’ terra madre, the viewer at first catches one muted line, only to find oneself tracing along the entangled lines to construct the image. The execution is part systematic, part calligraphic, and investigative as the viewer and the artist attempt to gain knowledge in the subject matter through the line-tracing process of forms in space.
Color lithographs of Paysage de Majola are in many public collections including Des Moines Art Center.
Born in the small village of Borgonovo, bordering the Swiss-Italian border, Alberto Giacometti was born the eldest son of a prominent artistic lineage. His father, Giovanni Giacometti was a known Swiss national impressionist painter and engraver and also, the painters Cuno Amiet and Ferdinand Hodler were Alberto’s godfathers. Giacometti began his artistic education at the École des Beaux-Arts in Geneva and then continued at the École des Arts et Métier. In 1922, he travelled to Paris to broaden his prospects and eventually through his relationship with Joan Miro and Max Ernst, Giacometti joined the inner circle of the Surrealist movement, with Andre Breton as the stalwart, controlling figurehead of the collective. By 1935, Giacometti was expelled from the Surrealists.
Distancing himself from Breton and his camp, Giacometti began exploring the figural form by overextending and stretching thin anatomical dimensions of his sculptural imagery. Relation to space --not corporeality-- dominated the narrative of human existence in his figurative work. For many modernists of his generation the aftermath of WWII served as a reactionary platform, projecting the damages of annihilated societies and moral turmoil enacted by the Nazis. Giacometti’s wrought, skeletal figures represented man as unnoble and complex, permanently juxtaposed in an existential void.
Alberto Giacometti was prolific and profound in his career. An artist obsessed with his work and studio life, he became an emblematic figure of the modern existential aesthetic brought on from the physical and cultural devastation of the Third Reich. He died in 1966 of cardiac exhaustion at Coire Hospital in Switzerland.