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Kunsthaus Zürich presents drawings and watercolours by Alberto Giacometti
Alberto Giacometti, Stables in Capolago, 1915. Watercolour over pencil on paper, 22.8 x 28.9 cm. Kunsthaus Zürich, Bruno Giacometti bequest, 2012© Succession Alberto Giacometti / 2013 ProLitteris, Zurich.
ZURICH.- From 28 February to 25 May 2014 the Kunsthaus Zürich will be showing little-known works on paper by the Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966).

Alberto Giacometti’s extensive repertoire of works on paper is generally known, but the drawings and watercolours held by his brother Bruno (1907–2012), which were recently bequeathed to the Kunsthaus Zürich, are much less familiar. The approximately 70 pencil and pen drawings, some created using ball-point, coloured crayon and lithographic chalk, as well as six watercolours and a pastel, have rarely been exhibited and include some genuine revelations.

This intimate and informal collection of drawings by Alberto Giacometti underlines the fundamental importance of the medium to his work. It spans his entire artistic career, from the early years in Stampa to his time in Paris. Works from his youthful period are particularly well represented; they include watercolours that are striking in their exuberant deployment of colour and their carefreeness. There are landscapes from the Val Bregaglia and around Maloja, as well as a self-portrait with a blue Basque beret dated 1916. Also from this early period are the first sketches and copies from originals by Old Masters such as Dürer, Holbein and Mantegna, but equally from works by Giacometti’s father Giovanni and Ferdinand Hodler. An intensive engagement with the pictorial canon of art history was a key aspect of Alberto’s work throughout his career. The sensitive portraits of family members, and in particular the pen self-portrait from 1918 in which Giacometti depicts himself in an academic pose as an artist and personality, are remarkably mature drawings and reveal a mastery of the medium that gave him a unique status within this family of artists. He constantly recorded his environment and the places that were familiar to him, drawing his mother doing the housework or the family gathered together at meal times and, like his father, making portraits of the youngest child Bruno. His father, whose works inspired and influenced him every bit as much as the reproductions of paintings that he discovered in books in the studio, consistently fostered and supported his creative interests.

In the 1920s, and in particular while studying in Paris, he followed these with a number of nudes, chiefly female, that are a central theme throughout the drawings. Sometimes employing broad lines, sometimes just a few gentle strokes, Giacometti was already producing sculptural figures that reveal his striving to engage with the dimensions and proportions of a body in space. Through copies and sketches of Byzantine and Romanesque sculptures and frescoes, some of them produced simultaneously with the well-known copies of Egyptian images, Giacometti achieved a closeness to reality which, he felt, was no longer to be found in modern art. The presentation also includes copies of paintings by Matisse, Derain and, later, Poussin as well as, once again, Dürer. From 1930 onwards, Alberto’s brother Diego lived in Paris and the two worked together. There are three angular, stylized portraits from this period, during which Diego repeatedly acted as a model for his brother. Regrettably, no more drawings from the 1930s and 1940s are preserved here. It is not until the 1950s and 1960s that his work is better documented once again. In sketches featuring motifs from Stampa and Maloja, which he also executed as paintings, Giacometti seeks to lay bare the fundamental essence of a landscape and, through the graphic medium of line, to explore its elemental structures and spatial relationships. He also produced object studies and studio views.

An exceptional figure study from 1960 entitled ‘Four Large Women and a Head’ sheds light on Giacometti’s conception of proportions, which manifests itself in the delicate sculptures from this period. The execution of the lines, which varies from one female figure to another, underscores the figures’ differing presence in space. A number of sketches, probably made spontaneously on small sheets of paper or pages from books, show that Giacometti was constantly at work, drawing on almost anything that came to hand. The exhibition, designed by guest curator Monique Meyer, clearly demonstrates that for Alberto Giacometti, drawing was an indispensable tool in his artistic armoury – both as a means of understanding his environment and as a basis for his paintings and sculptures.

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