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  • Overview

    'It isn't necessary to make things large to make them monumental; a head by Giacometti one inch high would be able to vitalize this whole space.' —Hans Hoffman

    A galvanising example of Alberto Giacometti’s recurring motif of the standing woman, which ran throughout the 1940s and until his death in 1966, Femme debout portrays a thin, rising silhouette whose arms have fused to her torso, to the point of morphing almost perfectly into a vertical line. Ascending just over 45cm high, the bronze sculpture is reminiscent of Giacometti’s early forays into the human form, which materialised on a small – sometimes minuscule – scale in the wake of World War II, and subsequently became increasingly tall. Conceived circa 1961, Femme debout immediately follows the culmination of Giacometti’s exploration of the female form, embodied by his monumental four Grandes femmes, 1960, which formed part of an unrealised project commissioned by Chase Manhattan Plaza in New York City. In its jewel-like dimensions, Femme debout conjures the artist’s ability to convey soul and humanity in the most minute of details, producing the woman’s long, lean body from a blocky base – Giacometti’s signature pedestal. In essence, the artist portrays the ethos of a female figure; not in a naturalistic, descriptive manner, but as a presence occupying space. 

     

    Conceived circa 1961, Femme debout emerged at the dawn of a key moment of critical and commercial success for Giacometti. That year, the artist won the first prize at the Pittsburgh International Exhibition, appeared on the front cover of the French magazine L’Express, and was photographed by Henri Cartier-Bresson at the Galerie Maeght, walking along his sculptural figures for what would soon thereafter become an iconic image. A year later, in 1962, he would receive the grand prize for sculpture at the Venice Biennale, and be the subject of a major retrospective exhibition at the Kunsthaus in Zurich.

     

    Alberto Giacometti at his studio in Paris, France 1962 © The Estate of Alberto Giacometti (Fondation Giacometti, Paris and ADAGP, Paris), licensed in the UK by ACS and DACS, London 2020. Image: Wolfgang Kuhn/United Archives via Getty Images.
    Alberto Giacometti at his studio in Paris, France 1962 © The Estate of Alberto Giacometti (Fondation Giacometti, Paris and ADAGP, Paris), licensed in the UK by ACS and DACS, London 2020. Image: Wolfgang Kuhn/United Archives via Getty Images.

    In Femme debout, the nameless figure is sculpted as a narrow, fragmentary, yet infinitely delicate entity. Her blade-like figure seems to defy the laws of gravity, hoisting vertically despite surrounding pressure. With her glistening, mysterious edge, Femme debout is a solid yet ephemeral vision, both defining and defined by the space around her. This paradox precedes the sculpture's physical constitution, as it was equally enacted during Giacometti's process of execution. Indeed, to conceive his idiosyncratic sculptures, the artist would build up the figure, and subsequently remove more and more of the form in a blur of frenzied activity. Here, the figure of the woman appears to have been constructed from some fundamental beacon of existence, as though Giacometti managed to condense the reality surrounding him to harness the woman's true form. Forming part of a wider body of work defined by slender, emaciated forms, Femme debout conveys a vivid but fragile presence; a discreet meditation on the human condition. Indeed, the chiseled woman's resemblance to Giacometti's myriad other anthropomorphic sculptures prompts reflection on ‘that precious point at which human beings are confronted with the most irreducible fact: the loneliness of being exactly equivalent to all others’.i 

     

     'My problem is that no matter how hard I try to start with the structure, I start in my head and it’s very big. Then I enter into the eyes, and the nose and the mouth, and it becomes abstract. So for me to catch all the head at the same time, I need to make it very small so that I have control over the figure.' —Alberto Giacometti                                      

    Perhaps one of the most prolific subject matters within the painterly and sculptural realms, the female muse nonetheless held particular meaning for Giacometti, whose model was most frequently his wife, Annette Arm. ‘Annette was a passionate person, funny and surprising’, wrote Paola Carola, Giacometti’s only surviving model. ‘But above all she was in love with Alberto and his work. She looked after his sculptures with a love that flooded the studio’.ii Reciprocally, and as exemplified by Femme debout, Giacometti infused loving sentiments within his female sculptures. ‘When working on a female figure in clay [Giacometti's] fingers would run up and down the sculpture, pinching, gouging, scraping, caressing, as if they responded to a will of their own, independent of the incidental artist’.iii Exuding a blend of pristine tenderness and carnal immediacy, Femme debout typifies the artist’s inimitable human touch, which successfully transformed his bronze forms into soulful entities. Drawing comparisons with Egon Schiele’s gaunt silhouettes, as well as ancient totemic statues eulogising female divinities, the present work evidences Giacometti’s distinct style which changed the landscape for sculpture and portraiture alike, situated in a sphere that eludes time, movements and styles.

     

    Egon Schiele, Standing Nude in Black Stocking, 1917, watercolor and charcoal on paper, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Bequest of Scofield Thayer, 1982. Image: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence.
    Egon Schiele, Standing Nude in Black Stocking, 1917, watercolor and charcoal on paper, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Bequest of Scofield Thayer, 1982. Image: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence.

    Giacometti in Motion

     

     

    i Jean Genet, quoted in Jackie Wullschlager, 'Giacometti: Pure Presence, National Portrait Gallery, London — review', The Financial Times, 14 October 2015, online.
    ii Paola Carola, ‘Interview with Giacometti's last surviving muse, Paola Carola’, The Art Newspaper, 1 April 2011, online.
    iii James Lord, 'Alberto at Work', Alberto Giacometti, 1901-1966, exh. cat., National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1996, p. 41.

    • Provenance

      Annette Giacometti, Paris
      Private Collection
      Private Collection
      Richard Gray Gallery, New York
      Private Collection (acquired from the above)
      Sotheby's Private Sales, Hong Kong
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Centre Pompidou, L'atelier d' Alberto Giacometti: Collection de la Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, 17 October 2007 - 11 February 2008, no. 250, p. 407 (another example exhibited; plaster example illustrated, p. 149)
      Hong Kong, Sotheby's, Panorama: A New Persepective, 29 March - 2 April 2019, lot 20
      New York, Gagosian, Duino Elegies, 5 March - 11 April 2020

24

Femme debout

incised with the artist's signature and numbered 'Alberto Giacometti 7/8' on the right side of the base; further incised with the foundry mark 'Susse Fondeur Paris' on the reverse of the base; further stamped with the foundry mark 'Susse Fondeur Paris Cire Perdue' on the underside of the base
bronze
44.5 x 7.8 x 11.1 cm (17 1/2 x 3 1/8 x 4 3/8 in.)
Conceived circa 1961 and cast in bronze in 1993 by Susse Fondeur, Paris, this work is number 7 from an edition of 8 plus one 0 cast and a further Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti cast. This work is recorded in the Alberto Giacometti Database under no. 1953, and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from the Giacometti Committee.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£550,000 - 750,000 

Sold for £651,700

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4026
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 20 October 2020