Childhood and Youth


Alberto Giacometti is born on 10 October 1901 in the mountain village of Borgonovo near Stampa in the Val Bregaglia, canton of Graubünden. His father is the well-known Post-Impressionist painter Giovanni Giacometti (1868–1933); his mother Annetta Giacometti-Stampa (1871–1964) comes from one of the valley’s landed families. Alberto’s brother Diego is born in 1902. 1904 sees the birth of his sister Ottilia and the family moves to Stampa; his brother Bruno is born in 1907.

From 1915 to 1919 Giacometti is a pupil at a boarding school in Schiers, where a small studio is set up for him. During 1918, both here and at home, he produces his first masterful drawings. In autumn 1919 he begins studying art in Geneva, attending the École des Beaux-Arts and the École des Arts Industriels, but drops out in 1920.

Towards the Avant-garde


Dissatisfied with his figural works, Giacometti begins experimenting with the forms of Cubism and African art. In 1925 he makes his début at the Salon dʼAutomne with the Torso (see GS 001 and GS 002). That same year his brother Diego comes to Paris; he will remain at Alberto’s side as his assistant and model for the rest of his life. In 1927 the pair move into the studio on Rue Hippolyte-Maindron where Giacometti will live and work to the last.

Summer sees the creation of a number of busts of his father and mother. In winter 1928–29 a process of reduction leads to the Gazing Head and other plaque sculptures (see GS 010–GS 014). These are very well received in the artistic and literary community and secure Giacometti admission to the leading avant-garde circles. He meets André Masson, Hans Arp, Joan Miró, Max Ernst and Alexander Calder, and soon encounters Pablo Picasso as well as Surrealist writers such as Louis Aragon and Georges Bataille. The poet and ethnologist Michel Leiris writes the first, ground-breaking essay on Giacometti in the journal Documents.

Crisis years


Giacometti continues producing his realistic studies of heads; his brother Diego and professional model Rita Gueyfier sit for him as, from 1936, does his friend Isabel Delmer. He continues to explore ancient art, especially Egyptian and Mesopotamian sculpture.

The following year his sister Ottilia dies shortly after giving birth to her son Silvio. Giacometti embarks on his experiments in capturing the appearance of a person far away, which lead him to produce small figures of ever-decreasing size. The increasingly large pedestals serve to accentuate the impression of distance.

From 1942 to 1945 he lives in Geneva, where his mother is bringing up her orphaned grandchild. Giacometti meets regularly with exiled literary figures from Paris and begins writing texts for Albert Skira’s journal Labyrinthe. During this period he meets Annette Arm (1923–1993), whom he goes on to marry in 1949. In September 1945, after more than three years, Giacometti finally returns to his Paris studio, which Diego had been looking after for him.

The Late Years


In 1959–60 Giacometti works on the large figures for the Chase Manhattan Plaza, which are cast in bronze in April 1960. At the instigation of the publisher Tériade he embarks on an extensive series of lithographs of his Parisian milieu. It is published in 1969 under the title Paris Without End.

1961 sees the first paintings of Caroline, a young prostitute whom Giacometti had met in Montparnasse. He will continue to produce numerous portraits of her until 1965; they mark the high point of his new approach to representing reality. In 1962 Giacometti takes part in the Venice Biennale, exhibiting both as a sculptor and as a painter, and is awarded the grand prize for sculpture. That same year sees a large-scale exhibition at the Kunsthaus Zürich.

In 1963 Giacometti undergoes a major operation for stomach cancer. While convalescing he spends more time than usual with his mother in Stampa, producing many drawings and lithographs of her. She dies in January 1964. 1965 sees Giacometti honoured with numerous accolades and major exhibitions, including at the Tate Gallery in London, in Denmark and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, to which he travels despite his failing health.

After five years of negotiations the Alberto Giacometti Foundation is established in Zurich on 16 December 1965. Thanks to the Basel gallerist Ernst Beyeler and Hans Grether it has acquired the extensive Giacometti collection of Pittsburgh industrialist G. David Thompson.

Alberto Giacometti dies at the cantonal hospital in Chur on 11 January 1966. He is laid out in the studio in Stampa and buried in the cemetery of San Giorgio near Borgonovo.