Private Collection (by descent from the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Heinz Berggruen, J'étais mon meilleur client, Souvenirs d'un marchand d’art, 1997, illustration of the plaster
Agnès de la Beaumelle (ed.), Giacometti - la collection de Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, 1999, illustration of the plaster
Revue A.D., December 2006 - January 2007, another cast illustrated in colour p. 96
Elegant and enigmatic, Alberto Giacometti's Lustre avec femme, homme et oiseau is a remarkable arrangement of the key figures central to the artist’s work – the standing woman and the walking man, set upon an impressive quadruple branched chandelier. Conceived circa 1949, it dates from a crucial period of the artist’s career in which he executed some of his most revered sculptures, including L’Homme au doigt, Femme Leoni and La Place.
Discussing the present work, in the context of the extensive collection of the artist’s work held at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, Jacques Beauffet writes: ‘although relating to a ‘decorative’ form, the purpose of a work like Lustre goes far beyond the basic function of providing light. On the contrary, it is in keeping with what is at the heart of the artist’s concerns between 1947 and 1949: the interweaving themes of isolation, incommunicability, the strangeness of relationships between men and women. Here the piece envisaged by Giacometti brings together two of the most common spatial arrangements in his post-war work: cages and solitary strolling. He refers to the remarks he later exchanged with Pierre Schneider, to whom he confided, speaking about his figures, "[…] each of them has the air of going their own way, all alone in a direction unknown to the others. They cross paths, pass each other by […] Or they gather around a woman […] I realised that I could never just create a motionless woman and a walking man’ (Giacometti - la collection de Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris, 1999, p. 134).
The concept of movement within a sculptural work is one that fascinated Giacometti throughout his career, however he appears to have treated this theme differently in relation to his male and female figures. In the catalogue of the recent Tate retrospective, Michèle Kieffer observed: ‘Like many other artists, Giacometti confronted the challenge of representing movement. Indeed, the walking figure became one of his most frequent motifs. This interest is already evident in Walking Figure (Figure en marche) 1927 and Limping Figure (Figure boiteuse en marche) 1931-2, created during his early surrealist and neo-cubist days, but it was only between 1946 and 1951 that the motif became dominant. During this productive period he crated works such as Walking Man (Homme qui marche) 1947, The Square (La Place) 1948, Three Men Walking (Trois hommes qui marchent) 1948 and Man Walking across a Square (Homme traversant une place) 1949. Most of these figures are male, and indeed Giacometti’s female upright figures tended to be immobile. The contrast between the still woman and the walking man became a central aspect of his work’ (M. Kieffer in Giacometti (exhibition catalogue), Tate Modern, London, 2017, p. 116).
Arranging his figures across the chandelier’s branches, Giacometti has created a highly theatrical setting on which the protagonists play out an unknowable drama, somewhat reminiscent of his celebrated Palais à quatre heures du matin from 1932 (fig. 1). The hieratic female figure undoubtedly plays the central role, and her prominence is enhanced not only by her size in comparison to the male, but also by her precipitous position at the very edge of the cage.
The use of the cage structure finds its earliest precedents in Giacometti’s Surrealist works, most famously in Boule suspendue of 1930-31 (fig. 2), a version of which was owned by André Breton, and a work often heralded as the first surrealist object. Like Boule suspendue, the caged female figure in the present work creates an atmosphere of enclosure and tension, as well as a sense of anxiety and uncertainty. Discussing a later iteration of the female figure in La Cage (première version) (fig. 3) Patrick Elliott links the couple and their indistinct interaction to that of a prostitute and her client, perhaps modelled on Giacometti’s own experiences at The Sphinx Bar, whose residents featured as subjects in both paintings and sculptures of this period (P. Elliott, Alberto Giacometti (exhibition catalogue), Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, 1996, p. 165). However, Reinhold Hohl maintains that these works 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 in the two versions of La Cage may be a self-portrait of the sculptor himself - a statement that could also apply to the walking man in the present work (R. Hohl, Alberto Giacometti, New York, 1971, pp. 140 & 142). The return of the cage structure to the sculptor’s work occurred in 1947 with Le Nez (fig. 4), which again can be interpreted as a self-portrait.
The image of a standing or walking human figure was established as pivotal to the artist's iconography. Between 1947 and 1950 Giacometti made several sculptures on the subject of the walking man, alone or in a small group positioned on a platform suggestive of a city square. Giacometti's lean, wiry figures reached their ultimate form as the walking man; not interested in recreating physical likenesses in his sculptures the artist sought to capture his figures beyond the physical reality of the human form. In the years after the Second World War his figures were reduced to their bare essential form, displaying an austerity that embodied the artist's existentialist concerns, and reflecting the lonely and vulnerable human condition.
Lustre avec femme, homme et oiseau was originally commissioned in 1948 by Louis Broder, a Swiss publisher based in Paris who specialised in producing printed editions of work by artists including Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso. The plaster model was hung as part of a larger decorative scheme produced in collaboration with Alberto’s brother Diego for Broder’s premises at 70 rue de l’Université, and remained in situ when the dealer Heinz Berggruen took the gallery space over shortly afterwards. In 1953 Giacometti agreed to cast three bronzes from the plaster for Broder. The present cast remained with Broder’s heirs until acquired by the present owner, and in 1983 Heinz Berggruen donated the plaster original to the Centre Georges Pompidou.
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