In the shadow of Alberto Giacometti

The Giacometti: a family of designers

Maeght Foundation, in Saint-Paul-de-Vence (Alpes-Maritimes) (1)


From our special correspondent

Nothing predisposed the Swiss village of Stampa, in the canton of Graubünden, to become the cradle of a line of artists. Located at the bottom of the Bregaglia valley, this large town was one of the first crossing points from north to south Europe in Roman times. The mountains, as majestic as they are overwhelming, deprive the sun, from November to February, of the austere houses with slate roofs. The Giacometti have been established in the valley for centuries when Alberto was born in 1901, from a family of pastry chefs. Her grandfather runs an inn near the bridge that overlooks the river.

Although his international fame would eclipse that of other members of his family, Alberto was not the first to take an interest in art. His father Giovanni and his cousin, Augusto, were among the major figures of Swiss painting at the dawn of the 20th century.e century, as recalled by the exhibition organized at the Maeght Foundation. Through nearly 300 works, mostly from private collections (that of the Maeght in the lead), she reveals talent and places five men from the Giacometti clan in their historical context, who took different paths but whose works correspond to each other.

The route, which reserves a room for each, therefore opens on Giovanni (1868-1933). Trained at the School of Applied Arts in Munich after his failure in Fine Arts, he tried his luck in Paris with his friend Cuno Amiet, before returning to settle in Stampa where he set up a stable as a workshop. It is there, in this village immersed in a “Gray and sad half-light” several months that the painter embarks on a desperate quest for light. He captures the shades of pink and blue of the snow at dusk (Snowy landscape, 1908), the spots of light which redden the cheeks of his wife resting in the garden (Under the elderberry, 1911), or the shining sun that illuminates the body of her adored daughter Ottilia, leaving her brothers in the shadows (Children in the forest, 1909).

His cousin Augusto, nine years his junior, is also a fine colourist. If Giovanni’s work bears the imprint of the Pont-Aven school or the German expressionist movement Die Brücke, Augusto is above all considered to be a pioneer of abstraction. A series of pastels dated 1916 gives a good overview. The exhibition mainly shows his neo-impressionist experiments. In the 1910s, he decomposes his landscapes like a mosaic of colored touches, applying paint with a knife, in a thick layer, as in the dazzling Landschaft (Baum). In 1933, the colors, always bright, metamorphosed into blurry spots in the shimmering Orange marketfrom Marseille.

In response to this chromatic debauchery, the second generation of Giacometti, made up of Giovanni’s three sons, abandoned color. The youngest Bruno (1907-2012) will become an architect of the austere modernist current, while the elder Alberto will know the career of painter and sculptor that we know, faithfully supported by Diego. His youngest of thirteen months will occupy himself until the death of Alberto, to whom he dedicated an boundless admiration, of the foundry work and the patinas of the parts. “Of opposite temperament, Alberto and Diego were very complementary. The first was as reserved and intellectual as the second was affable and bon vivant. The first worked at night, the second during the day. In the morning, Diego often saved his brother’s works by bringing them to the foundry before this eternal dissatisfied man destroyed them ”, says Commissioner Peter Knapp.

The two brothers even developed a fruitful collaboration in the field of decorative arts, as evidenced by a remarkable set of tables, chandeliers or lamps, with an elegant design and patterns full of fantasy (cats, owls, birds, etc.). All that is missing from the portrait of the artists of the family is their sister Ottilia, who died in childbirth at the age of 33, whose textile work, inspired by the traditional weavings of the valley, has unfortunately not been preserved.


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