Walking Man, more than a masterpiece, is an icon of 20th Century art. With that emblematic work, Giacometti succeeded in concentrating the suggestive energy of his oeuvre to epitomise the most powerful aspiration of his time: to humanise the world, history and art.
For the first time, several life-size models of Walking Man created by the artist are gathered together with most of the variations on that theme, sculpted and drawn. The very first life-size sculpture of Walking Man dating from 1947 is exceptionally presented to the public as well as Walking Man I, II and III from the collection of Fondation Giacometti.
This major exhibition retraces the genealogy of the motif, from the Walking Woman of the Surrealist period to the icons created in 1959-60. Supported by many documents and drawings never shown before, the exhibition recounts the history of Giacometti most celebrated work.
From the first model in 1932 to the famous figures created at the end of his career in the 1960s, this motif testifies to the tireless quest of an artist seeking to represent the essential aspect of the human being. This embodiment of humanity, particularly precious in present times, places this oeuvre among the most identifiable in the world.
Among the works exhibited:
Walking Man was, in its first incarnation, a Walking Woman (1932). The motif already appears in this Surrealist work, an intriguing figure inspired by Egyptian art.
It reappeared after the war, when the artist was commissioned for several commemorative sculptures, for which he explored the modes of representation of a universal human figure (1946). The first Walking Man (1947) of large dimensions, was also inspired by Egyptian art, whose style Giacometti admired.
The following works, on the other hand, draw their inspiration from daily life. The artist represents the perception felt when witnessing a scene in the street from the terrace of a café.
Three Walking Men (1948), The Square (1948) and Man Walking across a Square (1949), convey the fugitive vision of life given by the movement of people walking in the distance.
The very poetic Figurine between two houses (1950), which shows a female figure, is reminiscent of the oneiric atmosphere of the artists Surrealist works.
The artist only returned to the motif in 1959, for a new commission for a public space. It is in those circumstances that he created the sculptures considered today as art icons of the 20th Century.
In all, Giacometti created four life-size Walking Men, three of them cast in bronze.
Born in 1901 in Stampa, Switzerland, Alberto Giacometti was the son of Giovanni Giacometti, a renowned post-impressionist painter. He was initiated into the arts in his fathers studio, and at the age of 14 made his first works there, a painting and a sculpted bust of his brother Diego. In 1922, Giacometti left to study in Paris, and was enrolled in the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, where he attended the classes of the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle.
At that time, he drew from models and was interested in the avant-garde, among them the post-cubists. In 1929, he started a series of women plates, which gained him notice in the art milieu. In 1930, Giacometti joined André Bretons Surrealist movement, a period in which he created a series of objects with symbolic and erotic connotations. Between 1932 and 1934, he made two symbolic female figure, Walking Woman and Invisible Object. In 1935, he distanced himself from the Surrealist group and returned to the question of the representation of the human figure, which would remain the main subject of research for his whole life.
After spending the war years in Switzerland, on his return to Paris, he resumed his work on the human figure. Working mainly from models, he also made more generic figures inspired by art history. He developed a process of personal work, modelling figures that he then transferred to plaster whose surface he reworked with knives and sharp objects. The works in large size were sometimes worked directly with plaster. Though he had most of his sculptures cast in bronze, he also liked to exhibit the plasters, whose surface he sometimes painted.
In 1947, he created his first version of Walking Man, then made several variations on the theme, in works of smaller format. In 1959-1961, he produced three other life size models for a commission, never fulfilled, for the Chase Manhattan Plaza in New York, which became icons in his oeuvre.
Alberto Giacometti died in January 1966, at the Coire Hospital in Switzerland.
Curator: Catherine Grenier
Assistant curator: Thierry Pautot