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ALBERTO & DIEGO GIACOMETTI - THE SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP

Christie's sale this June 2023 in New York offers a wonderful curation of works by the brothers - Alberto & Diego Giacometti.

Alberto Giacometti, his wife Annette and his brother Diego. Photo: International Center of Photography

The two brothers had a fascinating but complex relationship who remained very close all their lives.


Alberto - the prodigious Swiss artist (1901-1966) was an era defining sculptor, who preferred to use models who he knew personally, rejecting classical ideas of perspectives.


Diego (1902-1985), on the other hand, devoted 40 years of his life working as an assistant to his brother, Alberto, but nonetheless was a talented sculptor. This is how he started helping with the bronze patinas and plaster casts and assembling the frames.


Fate had it that Diego injured his right hand while operating a threshing machine, perhaps this accident was the catalyst that made Alberto the big brother who wanted to protect his sibling even more.

Born in the Swiss Alps, and surrounded by wildlife, Diego was fascinated by the carved wooden animals and nature and the majestic woodland around him but also the classical sculpture of the ancient world.

He took a liking to working with bronze and wax and consequently learned to master the lost-wax casting process.

This inspiration reverberates across his pieces of furniture.


His brother, Alberto encouraged him to train as a caster - helping him to develop himself and pursue his artistic endeavours and became his preferred model for whom he would pose every morning.


Diego Giacometti (1902-85), Console bird and cup, c. 1976. Patinated bronze, painted wrought iron and glass.

The offsprings of Impressionist painter - Giovanni Giacometti (1868-1933), incontestably remained influenced by their father.


Alberto was the emotionally-charged, highly-strung one with a philosophical approach to his work. He had the intellect rigour to discuss existentialism with Sartre and the cerebral vigour to debate about metaphysical matters.


Fondation Giacometti, Paris Materials Plaster Size Medium Sculpture Image rights © Estate Giacometti (Fondation Giacometti + ADAGP) Paris, 2016 AG Alberto Giacometti Swiss, 1901–1966

Diego in contrast, thought of himself as an artisan founder to his brother and was reticent to step into the realm of scholarly topics. He felt more at home in the company of itinerant drinkers and less reputable characters.


Alberto, it is understood, wanted to keep his brother at bay from the seedier milieu he was frequenting at the time.


Nonetheless this is this exact synergy that helped them work closely together in their studio in the 14th arrondissement of Paris.


Fauteuil Tête de Lionne, circa 1975

In 1929, Alberto was introduced to Jean-Michel Frank (1895-1941) which lead him to design lights, chandeliers and vases for his clients that included Elsa Schiaparelli, Nelson Rockefeller, Marie-Laure de Noailles and the great French poet and one of the founders of the surrealist movement - Paul Éluard.


Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966), Le Poing, model circa 1935, version circa 1939.

He was a tormented genius with his own idiosyncratic style exploring the human condition.


In fact, Alberto joined André Breton's Surrealist movement in 1931 but was expelled in 1935 due to his realistic works of models. While working on Hands Holding the Void (Imaginary Object) measuring 1.5m high, he faced a creative impasse and decided to hire a model which in essence was against the approach of Breton to creating art.


Nonetheless, his surrealist approach continued to play an important part in his creative work.

Alberto Giacometti, Hands Holding the Void (Invisible Object), 1934. Courtesy Giacometti Foundation

"I do not work to create beautiful paintings or sculpture. Art is only a means of seeing. No matter what I look at, it all surprises and eludes me, and I am not too sure of what I see.” - Alberto Giacometti


Diego made a foray into furniture design began in earnest post WWII and his bronze furniture got him the attention of fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy.

The latter was fascinated by his pure aesthetic.


Givenchy met Diego through Gustav Zumsteg - a fabric creator in Zurich - whose company was name Abraham and a friendship ensued.

Diego made some pieces for his first house at Jouy at the end of 1960, and then the manor of Le Jonchet in the early 1970's.

The Giacometti of Hubert de Givenchy

The relationship between the two brothers started at an early age. The elderly brother already made his first sculpture of his brother at the age of 14 and when they moved to Paris in 1922, Alberto carried on using his little brother as a model.


The mentor-muse synergy between the two was undeniably a pivotal fulcrum in their respectively complex relationship.


Property from the Estate of Jacquelyn Miller Matisse. Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966), Tête, drawn circa 1940-1941. Pencil on paper. 12½ x 9¾ in (31.8 x 24.8 cm).

Alberto, while being a staunch supporter of Diego, will admit he never succeeded to capture his brother in his work as can be testified in his drawing 'Tête" (de Diego) circa 1940-41.


Nowadays the Giacometti brothers have become the cynosure of all collector's eyes and will remain one of the most sought-after artists of all times amongst connoisseurs.

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