I paint and I sculpt to bite into reality, to defend myself, to grow... to advance as far as possible on all planes, in all directions, to protect myself against hunger, cold, death, to be as free as possible. - Alberto Giacometti
Born in 1901, Alberto Giacometti, the eldest of four children in the family of a Swiss Impressionist painter, started drawing, painting and sculpting at a young age in his father's studio. In 1919, he attended the École des Métiers d'art in Geneva as well as the École des Beaux-Arts then spent the following year visiting Italy with his father, a trip that introduced him to such diverse influences as Giotto and the Futurists.
In 1922, he moved to Paris, settling into Archipenko's old studio when the latter left for Berlin. Here he studied sporadically for several years with Antoine Bourdelle, exhibiting two of his cubist sculptures in the Salon des Tuileries in 1925. In addition to his regular contributions to the Salon des Tuileries, in 1927 he exhibited his "flat" sculptures at the Galerie Jeanne Bucher in Paris and showed some of his work in Zürich at the same gallery as his father. Favourable articles indicate the Parisian art world was starting to take the young artist very seriously. Nonetheless, to make a living, he collaborated with his brother Diego in making jewellery for Elsa Schiaparelli as well as lamps and chandeliers for Jean-Michel Frank.
By 1930 having met André Breton and Salvador Dali, he was assimilated into the Surrealist orbit becoming the leading sculptor of the movement with his first solo show. However, in 1934, he broke with the Surrealist orthodoxy in order to work from nature, exploring and redefining space using the human figure. Recuperating in 1938 from a serious car accident that left him with a permanent limp, he spent a good deal of time considering the ideas of movement and equilibrium. From 1942 until the liberation of Paris, due to wartime travel restrictions, Giacometti stayed in Geneva where he met young Annette Arm whom he subsequently married in 1949.
The decade from 1935 to 1945 was not a very productive one as Giacometti sought new modes of expression, but by 1946 he seemed to resolve the conflict of perception and memory in heavily worked small figures, with almost no contour, without weight or mass. Continuing their evolution, the figures became progressively more attenuated, characterized by an emotionless starkness. Throughout his career, he depended almost exclusively on his family members, primarily his wife Annette and brother Diego, for his live models.
In 1950, the Kunsthalle in Basel presented the first of many Giacometti retrospectives worldwide (Tate, MOMA, etc.). In 1954, American steel magnate G. David Thompson acquired a group of original plasters of work from the 20s, 3's and 40s that subsequently became the core of the Fondation Giacometti in Zürich (1965) through the auspices of Galerie Beyeler in Basel.
Although he was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1962, Giacometti finally succumbed to heart failure in January 1966. He was buried in his natal village in the Grisons, a copy of his last (unfinished) work, Portrait of Elie Lotar, placed on his tombstone.