NEW YORK - "To me," Giacometti once stated, "sculpture is not an object of beauty but a way for me to try to understand a bit better what I see in a given head, to understand a bit better what appeals to me about it and what I admire in it." Of all his representations of the human figure, this sculpture is without question Giacometti's most formally radical, visually engaging and emotionally impactful. Giacometti’s extraordinary Grande tête mince, also known as Grande tête de Diego, is a robust personification of the Existentialist movement during the heated years of the Cold War.

Alberto Giacometti's Grande tête mince will be offered at the Impressionist & Modern Evening sale in New York 6 November.

This imposing figure, parting his lips as if he is about to speak, embodies the anticipation of a moment yet to be realized. The model for this profoundly expressive sculpture was the artist's younger brother Diego, who inspired numerous variations on the theme of head and bust sculptures of the 1950s and whose physiognomic similarity to his brother invested these projects with an autobiographical narrative. The powerful Grande tête mince is the most ambitious of a series of innovative sculptural portraits completed during this era and has since been considered one of the artist's greatest works. 

Giacometti's choice of his brother Diego as the subject of this significant sculpture was based on his comfort and familiarity with his model. "He's sat for me thousands of times," Giacometti said. "When's he's sitting there, I don't recognize him. I like to get him to sit, so as to see what I see" (reprinted in Alberto Giacometti, The Origin of Space (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 140). Like the hauntingly beautiful paintings of his brother, which Giacometti executed at the same time, Grande tête mince demonstrates the artist's fascination with the emotive power of the sitter's face. The present sculpture is the artist's most ambitious experiment in representation of this most expressive part of the body and results in a work of art that captures the multiple incarnations of the model in one single form. Viewed from different vantage points, the present sculpture can be seen as two distinct heads: the side profile is much more articulated and full-bodied than the elongated, nearly intangible frontal view. This duality calls to mind the bust portrait of Nefertiti that had fascinated Giacometti throughout his career, and here he has achieved that similarly disconcerting perceptual effect.