The Swiss sculptor who was also a philosopher: Alberto Giacometti

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Piazza by Giacometti Via guggenheim.org

October 10, On This Day

Alberto Giacometti via Wikiart

His face was one among icons that adorned the eighth series of Swiss franc banknotes (for 100 Swiss francs), as did his iconic sculpture, L’Homme qui marche I. But that’s not his only legacy. Alberto Giacometti was a Swiss sculptor, painter, draftsman and printmaker of much repute and renown, and is often called one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century. He was born on October 10, 1901, exactly 120 years ago.

Views of L’Homme qui marche I depicted on the 1998 version of the 100 Swiss Franc banknote
Views of Giacometti depicted on the 1998 version of the 100 Swiss Franc banknote

Giacometti’s work was particularly influenced by artistic styles such as Cubism and Surrealism. Among his notable aassociates were Joan Miró, Max Ernst, Pablo Picasso, Bror Hjorth, and Balthus.

Interestingly, while from 1938-1944, Giacometti’s sculptures had a maximum height of 7 cm, after World War II, he created his most famous sculptures as extremely tall and slender figurines (made during 1945 to 1960). The emaciated figures are often interpreted as an expression of the existential fear, insignificance and loneliness of mankind.

Giacometti was also an accomplished draughtsman and portrait artist. Giacometti visited Henri Matisse on his deathbed in Nice in 1954, where he drew many portraits of the dying artist that would serve as the model for a medal commissioned by the French mint.

L’Homme qui marche II, a closely related sculpture in the series

One anecdote goes that he met famed French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in 1939, when a the latter was young and approached the artist while he was drinking alone in Café de Flore in Paris, and asked him to pay for his bill as he had no money with him. The two instantly bonded and became good friends, with Giacometti asking Sartre to write existential essays to accompany his works.

Giacometti died in January 1966 of heart disease (pericarditis) and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease in Switzerland.

Cat, 1954, Metropolitan Museum of Art

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