Impressionist & Modern Art

A Story of Modern Man in an Exceptional Giacometti Chandelier

By Sotheby's

An elegant and enigmatic piece by one of the greatest painter-sculptors of the 20th century will be offered for auction in the Impressionist and Modern Evening Sale at Sotheby's in London on 28 February. Giacometti’s Lustre avec femme, homme et oiseau (circa 1949) is a remarkable arrangement of the figures central to his work — the standing woman and the walking man — set upon an impressive four-branched chandelier.


The piece dates from a crucial period of the artist’s career in which he created some of his most famous sculptures, including L’Homme au doigt, Femme Leoni and La Place. It was during this period that 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. In these 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 loneliness and vulnerability of the human condition.


In the late 1940s, Giacometti was fascinated by spatial relationships and the concept of movement within a single work. The present sculpture hints at an urban context, with the platform on which the figures are positioned evocative of a city square, framed by the four palms at each extremity.

Referring to the new perception of people and the space surrounding them in the post-war years, Giacometti recounted that, upon leaving a cinema in 1945, he suddenly felt that ‘people seemed like a completely foreign species, mechanical... mindless machines, like men in the street who come and go... a bit like ants, each one going about his own business, alone ignored by the others. They crossed paths, passed by, without seeing each other, without looking... In the street people astound and interest me more than any sculpture or painting. Every second the people stream together and go apart, they approach each other to get closer to one another. They unceasingly form and reform living compositions in unbelievable complexity’ (A. Giacometti, quoted in Pierre Schneider, 'Ma longue marche par Alberto Giacometti', in L'Express, Paris, 8th June 1961, pp. 48-50). 


The present work interweaves themes of isolation, incommunicability, and the strangeness of relationships between men and women. Giacometti said of the figures in the work: ‘...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).

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.

The work will be on view in Hong Kong from 30 January–2 February and New York from 12–14 February. Click here for the full list of dates and locations.

CLICK HERE to view the sale.

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

More from Sotheby's