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Artists Alberto Giacometti
Alberto Giacometti Photo

Alberto Giacometti

Swiss Sculptor and Painter

Movements and Styles: Surrealism, Existentialism in Modern Art

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

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

Alberto Giacometti Timeline


"Let me know how to make only one and I will be able to make a thousand."
Alberto Giacometti
"Just the same, if I begin my statue, as they do, with the tip of the nose, then an infinity of time will not be too much before I get to the nostrils."
Alberto Giacometti
"When I make my drawings ... the path traced by my pencil on the sheet of paper is, to some extend, analogous to the gesture of a man groping his way in the darkness."
Alberto Giacometti
"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

"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


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.

Most Important Art

Alberto Giacometti Famous Art

City Square (1948)

The multi-figured City Square, while not Giacometti's first foray into the waif-like figures for which he is best known, is a stunning exercise in creating an impression of spacious landscape. Treading amidst an empty space, the figures - what Sartre called "moving outlines" - seem to rise out of nothing. In a 1960 review for The Nation, Fairfield Porter observed, "Giacometti's concern is to place the relationship of man and landscape with the ground. And he further considers man and everything else as having a dual relationship to the environment as a link between the earth and infinity." By this time Giacometti was well acquainted with Existentialism, and City Square could be interpreted along its lines, depicting as it does mankind as a mere shadow of itself, existing half-way between being and nothingness.
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Alberto Giacometti Artworks in Focus:



Alberto Giacometti was born in 1901 in the mountain hamlet of Borgonovo, in eastern Switzerland. He was the first of four children born to Giovanni Giacometti, a Post-Impressionist painter, and Annetta Giacometti-Stampa, whose family was among the area's prominent land owners. In addition to his father, several members of Giacometti's extended family were artists, including Augusto Giacometti (second cousin to both Giovanni and Annetta), who was a Symbolist painter, and Cuno Amiet, Alberto's godfather and a close family friend, who was a Fauvist.

When Giacometti was no older than ten, he began to send pencil and crayon drawings to his godfather Amiet, most of which he saved and survive today. And in the years that followed, he began to experiment with oils and still-lifes, often using his siblings as models. He produced his first painting at age twelve.

Early Training

In 1915, Giacometti enrolled at the Evangelical School in the town of Schiers, where he continued to work in a small private studio. Later he enrolled at the École des Arts Industriels in Geneva, and studied painting, drawing and sculpture under the tutelage of Pointillist painter David Estoppey and sculptor Maurice Sarkissoff.

In May 1920, Giacometti traveled to Italy with his father, where he viewed paintings by Jacopo Tintoretto at the Venice Biennale, Giotto's frescoes in Padua, and ancient Egyptian art at the Archeological Museum in Florence. Soon after, he moved to Paris, where he enrolled in several art classes, and later he began to be attracted to Cubism and primitive art. In 1926 he exhibited his very first major bronze sculpture work, the idol-like Spoon Woman (1926-27), at the Salon des Tuileries.

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Alberto Giacometti Biography Continues

Mature Period

Alberto Giacometti Biography

By the 1930s, Giacometti had been warmly welcomed into Surrealist circles, and he became close to figures such as Man Ray, Joan Miró, André Masson and Max Ernst, as well as the movement's founders André Breton and Louis Aragon. But he also published work in Documents, the periodical produced by writer Georges Bataille, who was then putting forward a version of Surrealism in opposition to Breton's. Critics now believe that Bataille's ideas may have been important in inspiring several of Giacometti's Surrealist works, such as Suspended Ball (1930-1).

In June 1940 Giacometti and his brother Diego fled Paris by bicycle, narrowly missing an encounter with the invading German Wehrmacht (the next day they witnessed the city's bombardment from afar). Giacometti remained in France during this time, and forged friendships with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, thinkers who would later influence his figurative work.

In 1946, following the liberation of Paris, and Giacometti's own three-year hiatus in Geneva, he returned to the French capital. That same year his former lover, Annette Arm, joined him, and the two were married in 1949. Arm modeled for him on several occasions, including for the oil painting Annette with Chariot (1950). It was while living in Paris during these years that Giacometti arrived at his mature style of elongated figures, reportedly after spending time sketching passersby in the city streets.

Late Period

Alberto Giacometti Photo

As Giacometti's style continued to mature into the 1950s and 60s, his bronze figures grew larger and more complex, ranging from his Woman of Venice II (1956) at nearly four feet tall, to Tall Woman II (1960), towering at close to nine feet. He also devoted more time to portraiture, in both painting and sculpture. His regular models included Diego and Annette, as well as Isaku Yanaihara, a Japanese philosophy professor and writer whom he befriended in 1955.

By the 1960s, Giacometti was internationally famous, but his health declined. He was plagued by heart and circulatory problems. Nevertheless he continued to work, and in his final weeks he was working on a bust and painting of Elie Lotar, a French photographer and close friend. On the evening of January 11, 1966, he died of complications of pericarditis.


Both of the important phases of Giacometti's career yielded innovations that influenced a wide range of artists. His Surrealist sculpture of the 1930s, for instance, influenced Henry Moore, partly inspiring the Surrealism that would be such an important component of Moore's practice throughout his life. It is certainly hard to imagine Moore's own innovative experiments in the 1930s without Giacometti's example. And Giacometti's figurative work was vital in re-establishing the figure as a viable motif in the post-war period, at a time when abstract art dominated. His spindly bronze figures, which appear punctured and fragile, compressed in space, are in many respects visual manifestations of Existentialist thought, emblems of the condition of modern humanity ravaged by doubt.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Alberto Giacometti
Interactive chart with Alberto Giacometti's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart


André DerainAndré Derain
Constantin BrancusiConstantin Brancusi
Hans ArpHans Arp
Joan MiróJoan Miró
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso

Personal Contacts

André MassonAndré Masson
Louis AragonLouis Aragon
Max ErnstMax Ernst
Georges BatailleGeorges Bataille



Influences on Artist
Alberto Giacometti
Alberto Giacometti
Years Worked: 1920 - 1966
Influenced by Artist


Isamu NoguchiIsamu Noguchi
Salvador DalíSalvador Dalí
Henry MooreHenry Moore
Leland BellLeland Bell
Francis BaconFrancis Bacon

Personal Contacts

Jean-Paul SartreJean-Paul Sartre
Jean GenetJean Genet
Francis PongeFrancis Ponge
Eduardo PaolozziEduardo Paolozzi
Alexander CalderAlexander Calder


Existentialism in Modern ArtExistentialism in Modern Art
Art NouveauArt Nouveau

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Useful Resources on Alberto Giacometti





The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


A Giacometti Portrait Recomended resource

By James Lord

In Giacometti's Studio

By Michael Peppiatt

Giacometti (2009)

By Ulf Kuster, Pierre-Emanuel Martin-Vivier

More Interesting Books about Alberto Giacometti
Eternal Gaze Recomended resource

Part I and II

Alberto Giacometti

Gogosian Gallery

"The Giacomettis' Decorative Works"

By Rita Reif
The New York Times
May 24, 1987

"Art in Review" - 'Alberto Giacometti: Sculpture' at Gagosian Gallery Recomended resource

By Roberta Smith
The New York Times
June 11, 1993

"The human race, handled with care" Recomended resource

By Laura Cumming
The Observer
March 23, 2008

"Alberto Giacometti: Drawings"

By Alix Finkelstein
The Brooklyn Rail
June 2009

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