Galerie Beyeler, Basel (acquired in 1991)
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2000
Ernst Beyeler, William Rubin et al., Fondation Beyeler, Munich & New York, 1997, no. 43, another cast catalogued p. 311
L'Atelier d'Alberto Giacometti: The Collection of the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti (exhibition catalogue), Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2007-08, no. 226, colour illustration of the painted plaster version p. 143
Preoccupied by the theme of human existence, Giacometti established the image of the man and woman as central to his iconography. In the present work, the elongated sinuous shape of the female form heightens the sense of linearity within the overall work, while the bust of the man juts out almost obtrusively from the base. The coarse handling of the bronze invokes a stage set with contrasts of light and shadow, which heighten the dynamism of the work. James Lord declared that no other female figure in the artist’s career bears such a sense of ‘sculptural dynamism’ as Giacometti’s women tend to be more rigid, with arms often compact against the body, static in their own space. The standing female nude remained the most iconic symbol of Giacometti’s art. In La Cage (deuxième version) (fig. 2), the female appears smaller and with arms against her sides, as the scene becomes a more private and introverted interaction.
The use of the cage structure finds its precedent in Giacometti’s Surrealist works, most famously in Boule suspendue of 1930-31 (fig. 3), a version of which was owned by André Breton, and is often heralded as the first surrealist object. Like Boule suspendue, La Cage (première version) creates an atmosphere of enclosure and tension, as well as a sense of anxiety and uncertainty referring to Freud’s Oedipal complex. Patrick Elliott links the couple in La Cage (première version) and their indistinct interaction to that of a prostitute and her client, perhaps modelled on Giacometti’s own experiences at The Sphinx Bar, whose prostitutes featured as subjects in both paintings and sculptures of this period (P. Elliott, Alberto Giacometti 1901-1966 (exhibition catalogue), Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, 1996, p. 165). However, Reinhold Hohl maintains that the work can also be viewed as a metaphor for the distance between the sexes and the impossibility of their reconciliation after being banished from paradise, and has also suggested that the bust may be a self-portrait of the sculptor himself (R. Hohl, Alberto Giacometti, New York, 1971, pp. 140 & 142).
By framing such a scene, as in the celebrated Palais à quatre heures le matin, Giacometti creates a theatrical setting that is enhanced by the woman’s outstretched arms which appear to draw back the stage curtains as she projects her silent soliloquy, moulded with an immense sense of hieratic power. Her prominence is also enhanced not only by her size in comparison to the profile head of the male, but also by her position on a pedestal, and as she grabs the cage, the scene’s uneasiness increases in gravity. The return of the cage structure to the sculptor’s work occurred in 1947 with Le Nez (fig. 5), which can be interpreted as a self-portrait. Hohl extends this interpretation to La Cage (deuxième version), claiming that it ‘is most meaningful in terms of content when we interpret it as a self-portrait – the artist and his work’ (ibid., pp. 140 & 142).
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