Diego Giacometti 'La promenade des amis' console, conceived and executed circa 1976. Patinated bronze, wrought iron, glass.
Diego Giacometti's La promenade des amis, circa 1976, features a playful narrative illustrative of the lively worlds the artist created through his work, combining a sculptor's interest in balance and proportion within space and a fascination with the expressive possibilities of nature.
The stretcher of the console is adorned with finely sculpted animal forms within an implied landscape comprised of three patinated trees. The naturalistic motifs include a horse and three dogs — animals that Diego regularly observed during his childhood spent amongst the alpine landscape of Val Bregaglia between Switzerland and Italy. The organic texture of the sculpted trees extends to the console's simplified frame, demonstrative of the unity of the decorative and the functional within his work.
Diego's bronze furniture also reveals his admiration for ancient civilizations and his study of their utilitarian objects, which he had seen at the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo while visiting Egypt during his youth and while continuing to study at the Louvre in Paris. While the form of Diego's 'Têtes de lionnes' armchairs derives from ancient noble furniture, the framed scene of La promenade des amis, with its relief-like quality, may evoke a classical frieze, which the sculptor playfully reinterprets free from any direct historical reference.
Photographs published in 1983 of Diego’s Paris home reveal an example of the La promenade des amis console standing in the sculptor's living room among his collection of artworks and objects, including various animal forms such as an Egyptian wooden cat. Diego moved to Paris in 1925 to assist his older brother Alberto who had arrived a few years earlier. From 1926, the two brothers worked closely together in a modest ground-floor studio at 46 rue Hippolyte-Maindron. Until Alberto's death in 1966, Diego largely devoted his time to assisting and supporting his brother's work, sitting as his principal model, creating plaster casts and armatures for his sculptures, overseeing the casting of works in bronze and then applying the patina.
Between 1929 and 1940, Diego assisted Alberto with creating decorative objects, including vases, lamps and sconces, in plaster and bronze for the influential French interior designer Jean-Michel Frank. These objects became integral to the designer's celebrated minimalist interiors, and Frank's fashionable clientele would later become patrons of Diego's. In, 1941 Alberto returned to Switzerland, where he would remain until 1945, leaving Diego responsible for the studio. It was during this time that Diego began creating his own work, further developing his skill for bronze casting and patina, leading him to produce his first own pieces of furniture and lighting in the early 1950s.
'La promenade des amis' is conceived to be a painting where nothing must be changed in the way its elements are orchestrated
— Daniel Marchesseau
Describing Diego's furniture, Daniel Marchesseau explains, "a work by Diego is composed of two key elements: the central 'motif' and the overall framework. Depending on the work, there are certain variants. La promenade des amis is conceived to be a painting where nothing must be changed in the way its elements are orchestrated. Each figure is carefully conceived separately before being assembled on the console itself" (Daniel Marchesseau, Diego Giacometti, Paris, 1986, p. 82).
In the present example, the motif of the tree—a celebration of nature—is thrice repeated to punctuate the space and provide balance to the composition of the asymmetrical figurative scene and to the larger framed structure. While the sculpted trees ground the space of the composition—an effect repeated in the form of the console's legs—the interactions of the finely sculpted animal figures add a sense of movement, animating the scene. Further enhancing the presence of the work is the unevenness of its surface, revealing the artist's hand, and the resulting interplay of light and shadow. Furthermore, Diego's masterly use of patina gives nuance and depth to the bronze surfaces, heightening the tactile quality and the expressive nature of his work.
The original owner of the present La promenade des amis console was part of a noble family, celebrated within Parisian society and notorious for their parties during the 1930s and '40s. The princess was advised by Henri Samuel, one of the most admired French interior designers of the twentieth century, on her furniture purchases. Through an introduction by Samuel, the princess met Diego and subsequently acquired the present work. Samuel, whose innovative interiors were both informed by his deep understanding of historical styles as well as his collaboration with contemporary artists, began commissioning furniture in bronze from Diego during the mid-1960s. The seemingly timeless quality of the sculptor's furniture complemented the elegant eclecticism of Samuel's interiors.
The interior designer continued to feature Diego's work, which he considered primarily as sculpture—notably tables and bookcases incorporating the sculptor's now iconic small, finely cast animals—within his celebrated interiors up until his death.