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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.


Alberto Giacometti Photo


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.

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Alberto Giacometti Biography Continues

Important Art by Alberto Giacometti

The below artworks are the most important by Alberto Giacometti - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Gazing Head (1928)
Artwork Images

Gazing Head (1928)

Artwork description & Analysis: In his early years, Giacometti often experienced difficulty in sculpting from life. In this despair, he began to work from memory. The early plaster bust Gazing Head, arguably the artist's first truly original work, illustrates the culmination of this effort. The flatness of the head and face - Giacometti's economical placement of smooth divots for definition - result in a bust that is at once abstract and figurative. And yet the underlying theme of the work, the act of gazing, invites viewers to ponder whether what they are looking at is in fact a mirror. When Gazing Head was first exhibited in Paris in 1929, it immediately grabbed the attention of the French Surrealists, beginning an association that would cement the early part of Giacometti's career.

Plaster - Alberto Giacometti-Stiftung, Zurich

Suspended Ball (1930-31)
Artwork Images

Suspended Ball (1930-31)

Artwork description & Analysis: Although works like Gazing Head caught the attention of the Surrealists, it was Suspended Ball, first exhibited at Galerie Pierre in 1930, that prompted André Breton to invite Giacometti to join the group. The sculpture's white globular form - at once floating freely and trapped in a cage - and the enigmatic segment below it, all evinced the dream-like and erotic qualities that the Surrealists adored. In fact, following the 1930 group exhibition, Salvador Dalí contributed an article on Surrealist objects for Breton's periodical, inspired by Suspended Ball. Despite this association with Breton's group, critics have also associated the sculpture with the ideas of Breton's rival, Georges Bataille. It has been argued that the elements in the sculpture are deliberately enigmatic, since while they seem to suggest a sexual act, it is unclear which element is male and which female. This confusion of categories has been said to encapsulate Bataille's notion of informe, or formlessness.

Metal, cord, plaster - Tate Gallery, London

Hands Holding the Void (Invisible Object) (1934)
Artwork Images

Hands Holding the Void (Invisible Object) (1934)

Artwork description & Analysis: Hands Holding the Void illustrates how Giacometti started to stray from the Surrealists after his brief association with the group. It was created as a monument to the artist's recently deceased father, embracing what the critic Carl Einstein called a "metaphysical realism." It incorporates certain primitive and Egyptian elements. The void the figure is holding is possibly the soul, or what the Egyptians called . While the Surrealists embraced this work, the figurative elements indicate that the artist was beginning to move beyond them.

Bronze - Museum of Modern Art, New York

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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

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

More Interesting Articles about Alberto Giacometti
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Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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