Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) Figurine [Femme debout au chignon] 8 7/8 in (22.3 cm) (height) (Conceived circa 1953-1954 and cast in 1980 in an edition of eight plus one artist's proof)
Lot 20
Alberto Giacometti
(1901-1966)
Figurine [Femme debout au chignon] 8 7/8 in (22.3 cm) (height)
Sold for US$ 552,500 inc. premium

Impressionist and Modern Art

14 Nov 2017, 17:00 EST

New York

Lot Details
Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) Figurine [Femme debout au chignon] 8 7/8 in (22.3 cm) (height) (Conceived circa 1953-1954 and cast in 1980 in an edition of eight plus one artist's proof) Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) Figurine [Femme debout au chignon] 8 7/8 in (22.3 cm) (height) (Conceived circa 1953-1954 and cast in 1980 in an edition of eight plus one artist's proof) Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) Figurine [Femme debout au chignon] 8 7/8 in (22.3 cm) (height) (Conceived circa 1953-1954 and cast in 1980 in an edition of eight plus one artist's proof) Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) Figurine [Femme debout au chignon] 8 7/8 in (22.3 cm) (height) (Conceived circa 1953-1954 and cast in 1980 in an edition of eight plus one artist's proof) Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) Figurine [Femme debout au chignon] 8 7/8 in (22.3 cm) (height) (Conceived circa 1953-1954 and cast in 1980 in an edition of eight plus one artist's proof) Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) Figurine [Femme debout au chignon] 8 7/8 in (22.3 cm) (height) (Conceived circa 1953-1954 and cast in 1980 in an edition of eight plus one artist's proof) Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) Figurine [Femme debout au chignon] 8 7/8 in (22.3 cm) (height) (Conceived circa 1953-1954 and cast in 1980 in an edition of eight plus one artist's proof) Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) Figurine [Femme debout au chignon] 8 7/8 in (22.3 cm) (height) (Conceived circa 1953-1954 and cast in 1980 in an edition of eight plus one artist's proof) Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) Figurine [Femme debout au chignon] 8 7/8 in (22.3 cm) (height) (Conceived circa 1953-1954 and cast in 1980 in an edition of eight plus one artist's proof) Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) Figurine [Femme debout au chignon] 8 7/8 in (22.3 cm) (height) (Conceived circa 1953-1954 and cast in 1980 in an edition of eight plus one artist's proof) Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) Figurine [Femme debout au chignon] 8 7/8 in (22.3 cm) (height) (Conceived circa 1953-1954 and cast in 1980 in an edition of eight plus one artist's proof) Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) Figurine [Femme debout au chignon] 8 7/8 in (22.3 cm) (height) (Conceived circa 1953-1954 and cast in 1980 in an edition of eight plus one artist's proof) Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) Figurine [Femme debout au chignon] 8 7/8 in (22.3 cm) (height) (Conceived circa 1953-1954 and cast in 1980 in an edition of eight plus one artist's proof)
Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)
Figurine [Femme debout au chignon]
signed and numbered 'A. Giacometti 2/8' (to the back of the base), with the foundry mark 'Susse Fondeur Paris' (to the left of the base) and further foundry mark 'SUSSE FONDEUR/ PARIS/ CIRE PERDUE' (twice to the underside of the base)
bronze with grey and brown patination
8 7/8 in (22.3 cm) (height)
Conceived circa 1953-1954 and cast in 1980 in an edition of eight plus one artist's proof

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Galerie Maeght, Paris.
    William A. Seavey (acquired from the above on 23 December 1980).

    The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by the Comité Giacometti. It is recorded in the Alberto Giacometti database under number AGD 3760.

    Property from the Collection of the late William and Mary Seavey, Northern California

    A graduate of Princeton University, Harvard Law School and the Graduate Institute of International Studies at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, William Seavey (1930-2016) practiced law in San Francisco with an emphasis on corporate law and international transactions. In San Francisco, he served as a founding director and for many years Secretary of the French-American Chamber of Commerce and President of the Alliance Française. He was also a lecturer in International Law and Economics at Mills College in Oakland, California. In 1979, he and his wife Mary set about reviving a 19th Century vineyard in St. Helena, California. They restored an 1881 stone barn as a winery and barrel-aging cellar, producing their first vintage in 1990. Seavey Vineyard is known for its age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon, made in a classical winemaking tradition reminiscent of the "Old Napa Valley."

    An accomplished jazz pianist, Seavey was also an avid collector of modern art. Much of his collection was acquired from the Galerie Maeght in Paris during the early 1980s. Beginning in the late 1970s, Seavey was retained as counsel by Galerie Maeght and Joan Miró to investigate and bring an action regarding forgeries of Miró prints that were allegedly being perpetrated in the United States. In the course of his work, Seavey traveled several times to the Spanish island of Mallorca to meet with Miro and also spent time in Paris with Maeght. He fondly spoke of convivial evenings with Maeght which often included his artists in residence.

    Alberto Giacometti, Figurine [Femme debout au chignon]

    The early 1950s saw a period of extraordinary and intense exploration for Alberto Giacometti. In his sculptures of the female figure in particular he strove to represent his perception of the world truthfully. Figurine [Femme debout au chignon] stands as an important marker on the road to the Femmes de Venise series of 1956 and the Grandes Femmes of the unrealized Chase Manhattan commission of 1960.

    Growing up in the studio of his father, the Post-Impressionist Giovanni Giacometti, and in close touch with his godfather the painter Cuno Amiet, Alberto Giacometti was surrounded by art and artists from birth. Making art was therefore a natural part of his life. This facility meant that he was free to focus on a more fundamental problem: how to present the evidence of his senses with the materials in his hands. Although variously grouped with the Surrealists, Expressionists and Existentialists, his art defies broad categorization. Rather, it is always profoundly personal and individual.

    Giacometti studied initially at the Academy of Fine Arts in Geneva, travelling south to Italy in 1920 and spending 6 months sketching in Rome in 1921. It was in this period that he became fascinated with the art of the ancient world, both the classical and Byzantine examples seen in situ in Italy, and the Sumerian, Cycladic and particularly Egyptian art in Italian museums and in publications such as the prewar reports of the German excavations at Amarna. Giacometti's own copies of books on Egyptian archaeology show revealing annotations. His copy of Hedwig Fechheimer's Die Plastik der Ägypter (Berlin, 1920, copy at the Alberto Giacometti Stiftung, Zurich) shows Giacometti underlining a sentiment that could equally apply to his own views: 'But art can only be understood as something that is enduringly of the present ... The idea that the visual arts have as a whole advanced over the last 5,000 years is wholly erroneous.' (quoted in C. Klemm, 'Egypt', in C. Grenier (ed.), Giacometti, London, 2017, p. 46).

    Giacometti was associated with the Surrealists in Paris from 1922 until he was 'cast out' by André Breton in 1936, partly for returning to modelling and drawing from life. In returning to the human figure, particularly his future wife Annette who he met in 1943 and the ever-present figure of his brother Diego, he began the process of stripping back that led to his most characteristic sculptures. In self-imposed exile in Geneva during the war his sculptures became so small that the entire production could be carried in six matchboxes. This was followed by the astonishing works of 1947, such as Homme qui marche, and the searching interrogation of the female form of the early 1950s which produced the present work, a meditation on, if not perhaps a direct portrait of, Annette, who was modelling for him almost every day. His exquisite etchings made in the period, such as Nu de Profil (1955, Lust 64; E6) which is strikingly similar to the side view of Figurine [Femme debout au chignon] , give an insight into this restless pursuit.

    Giacommetti's copy of Fechheimer's treatise also shows him 'processing' the images of Egyptian figurines through his own parallel sketches beside the illustrations, a fascinating insight into his reaction to the anonymous masters of the past. Both the hieratic formality and the compact scale of the present work can trace their lineage to these figures. As he told David Sylvester in 1964: 'Large sculpture is only small sculpture blown up. The key sculptures of any of the ancient civilizations are almost always on a small scale. Whether Egyptian or Sumerian or Chinese or prehistoric, they are almost always more or less the same size, and I think that this actually was the size that instinctively seemed right, the size one really sees things.' (D. Sylvester, Looking at Giacometti, London 1996, p. 126).

    Giacometti also readily embraced the severely restricted formal vocabulary of Egyptian and Cycladic sculpture, with their fixed poses and strong frontality. By limiting the variable elements as much as possible – from 1940 the majority of his sculptures were either of a standing woman, a walking man or a bust-length portrait – he was able to focus on the element that most interested him, the representation of the world as he perceived it. By looking back to ancient art he was striving to bypass the Renaissance tradition of 'Realism', of the world as it was known and measured rather than as it was experienced in the mind of the artist. As he told David Sylvester 'You can only get to do anything by limiting yourself to an extremely small field' (quoted in D. Sylvester, op. cit., p. 132).

    Jean-Paul Sartre's influential introduction to the 1948 Giacometti exhibition at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, which launched the sculptor in the United States, set the tone for much subsequent analysis: 'So one must begin again from scratch. After three thousand years, the task of Giacometti and of contemporary sculptors, is not to enrich the galleries with new works, but to prove that sculpture itself is possible.' (J.-P. Sartre, 'The Search for the Absolute', reprinted in C. Harrison and P. Wood (eds.), Art in Theory: 1900-2000, New York, 2002, p. 612). The instantly recognizable silhouette of the present work shows him searching for an answer to that question.

    In this quest, Giacometti was grappling with a radically modern problem that had first been addressed by Cézanne. It is notable that, like Giacometti, Cézanne chose a repeating series of searching portraits of his wife, his closest, most amenable and most available model, in his attempts to solve the riddle. As David Sylvester notes 'Giacometti, then, is preoccupied with problems that concerned Cézanne – the elusiveness of the contour which separates volume and space, and the distance of things from the eye.' (D. Sylvester, op. cit., p. 4). He was constantly aware of the impossibility of representing with a static object the constantly moving, shifting, living form that existed before him in elastic space. Further, how was it possible to represent a subject 10 paces away using materials held at arm's length, a subject furthermore which appears to artist's eye to be foreshortened and thanks to perspective much smaller than he knew it to be. Sculpting became in part a mental exercise in 'forgetting' what the sculptor knows to be in front of him, for example the parts of the figure he cannot see, and instead concentrated on what can actually be perceived. Robert Hughes' description of Cézanne's attitude to painting could equally be applied to Giacometti's sculpture: 'A vast curiosity about the relativeness of seeing, coupled with an equally vast doubt that he or anybody else could approximate it in paint' (R. Hughes, The Shock of the New, London, 1991, p. 10). With both Cézanne's portraits of Hortense and Giacometti's studies of Annette, such as the present figure, the artist's hand is always apparent, whether in dabbing brushstrokes or searching finger marks. The trembling surface suggests movement and the play of light, but also a heroic doubt in the possibility of finishing a project that is endlessly changing. 'Giacometti's sculptures, then, don't merely convey the conditions of seeing but the conditions of trapping what he sees. They render visible the process of translating reality into art... [They] seem to present figures as they are perceived while time passes: they have a sort of inverted magnetism by which they persuade our eye (D. Sylvester, op. cit., pp. 15-16).

    Giacometti understood that sculptures only make sense relative to the observer, that the works cannot be separated from our viewing of them. Figurine [Femme debout au chignon] is a representation, here, of an object, there. No matter how close one gets to the sculpture it still holds its distance. Returning to Sartre: 'In frontally opposing classicism, Giacometti has restored an imaginary and indivisible space to statues. In accepting relativity from the very start, he has found the absolute. This is because he is the first one to take it into his head to sculpt man as he appears, that is to say, at a distance. ... He puts distance within reach of your hand, he thrusts before your eyes a distant woman – and she remains distant, even when you touch her with your fingertips.' (J.-P. Sartre, op. cit., p. 614-615).

    The restless surfaces of Giacometti's postwar sculpture are also a result of their creator's searching, probing working method, adding and subtracting, making and unmaking. He worked first in clay or plasticine, building up the figure on an armature, kneading and pinching the material into life. Once he or his brother and constant collaborator Diego felt there was some sort of resolution, this model was cast in plaster. As is particularly the case in the present model he would often then go to work on the plaster with a knife. The sharply defined contours show the strength of this subtractive process. The final step, casting in bronze, was the most expensive. His letters to Pierre Matisse in New York make frequent reference to his shortage of funds and the increasingly ruinous expense of working with the bronze foundries, from 1953 exclusively Susse Fondeurs in Paris. Perhaps as a result some models, such as Figurine [Femme debout au chignon] were not cast in his lifetime. This edition in bronze was cast under the supervision of Annette Giacometti and in Diego's lifetime; the plaster is in the collection of the Fondation Maeght. Throughout his career Giacometti never fetishized the process of making and was happy to commission professional fabricators. It was Diego who was largely responsible for bringing the sculptures through the casting process.

    The success of Giacometti's endeavor can be found in the sculptures themselves. In his long and varied career as a critic David Sylvester wrestled with many of the profound questions of the art of his time, but he kept returning to Giacometti's sculpture as a touchstone: 'Whatever they suggest at once provokes the question whether its opposite is not more relevant. They are insubstantial, fragile, their surface looks as if it might have been corroded merely by exposure to the light. And they stand there like petrified trees or the tapered columns of Persepolis. They rise from the ground as if rooted. And they are poised in flight like medieval saints zooming complacently up to heaven. They are deities, remote, imperious, untouchable.' (D. Sylvester, op. cit., p. 20).
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