Inscribed Alberto Giacometti, stamped with the foundry mark Susse Fondr Paris and numbered 7/8
The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by the Giacometti Committee working under the authority of the artist's moral right and will be published in the Catalogue raisonné prepared by the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti.
The authenticity of this work has also been confirmed by Mrs. Lisa Palmer.
Private Collection, France
Heinz Berggruen, Paris
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York (acquired from the above)
Joachim Jean Aberbach, New York (acquired from the above in February 1960)
Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Hanover Gallery, London (acquired from the above in July 1965)
Gimpel Hanover Gallery, Zürich (acquired from the above in March 1967)
Galerie Burén, Stockholm (on consignment)
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner in 1967
Francis Ponge, "Réflexions sur les statuettes, figures et peintures d'Alberto Giacometti", Cahiers d'Art, no. 444, Paris, 1951, illustration of the plaster p. 74
Ernst Scheidegger, Alberto Giacometti: Schriften, Fotos, Zeichnungen, Zurich, 1958, illustration of the plaster p. 117
Palma Bucarelli, Giacometti, Rome, 1962, no. 45, illustration of another cast
James Lord, A Giacometti Portrait, New York, 1965, p. 21
Franz Meyer, Alberto Giacometti: Eine Kunst existentieller Wirklichkeit, Stuttgart, 1968, p. 162
Reinhold Hohl, Alberto Giacometti, Stuttgart, 1971, illustration of the plaster p. 121
Bernard Lamarche-Vadel, Alberto Giacometti, Paris, 1984, no. 202, illustration of another cast p. 142
Tahar Ben Jelloun, Alberto Giacometti, 1991, illustration of another cast p. 23
Yves Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, biographie d'une oeuvre, Paris, 1991, no. 342, illustration of another cast p. 369
Ernst Scheidegger, Traces d'une amitié, Alberto Giacometti, Paris, 1991, illustration of another cast pp. 140-141
L'Atelier d'Alberto Giacometti (exhibition catalogue), Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2007-08, no. 16, illustration of the plaster in color p. 31
Giacometti's Le Chat is one of the most recognizable and profound compositions of his post-war production. Slinking along, with its body in perfect alignment, this graceful creature possesses an elegance akin to the artist's elongated female nudes. Giacometti was fascinated by the dexterity and anatomical pliancy of the animal, which in its very nature embodies the illusionistic properties of so many of his narrow busts and standing figures. "A cat is narrow and can pass between two very close objects," Giacometti once marveled, holding his hands about five centimeters apart. The cat's physical elusiveness was also fascinating to the Existentialists, which made Giacometti's cat all the more relevant when it was created in 1951. Observing how the animal could defy the boundaries of form and space, the writer Jean Genet once observed that Giacometti's sinewy cat could even "pass through a mouse hole" and that "his rigid horizontality perfectly recreates the form of a cat, even when curled up in a ball" (J. Genet, L'Atelier d'Alberto Giacometti,1958, reprinted in Alberto Giacometti, sculptures, peintures, dessins (exhibition catalogue), Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1991, p. 232, translated from the original French).
By 1951, when the present work was executed, Giacometti had formulated the iconography that he used in both painted and sculptural work. Until the end of his life, he focused on elaborating his established subject matter more than on the invention of new themes. Several bronzes, however, represent a departure from the artist's usual themes of male and female figures and depictions of his studio: the present work – Le Chat – and two other depictions of animals – Le Chien and Deux Chevaux. As Yves Bonnefoy commented: "There are many studio interiors now, and there are, of course, many portraits, in pencil, in oils, in clay or in plaster. And also there are still a few imaginative works during these months, for instance [...] in 1951 The Cat and The Dog which suggest the neighboring streets and courtyard" (Y. Bonnefoy, op. cit., p. 368).
Referring to its companion sculpture Le Chien, Giacometti told the writer Jean Genet: "The dog is myself. One day I saw it like that in the street. I was that dog" (quoted in ibid., p. 50). Similarly, the image of the cat can be interpreted as a symbolic representation of the artist himself and, in a wider context of the post-war period, as a reflection of the lonely and vulnerable human condition, a theme that very much preoccupied the artist at this time. In its treatment of the animal's body, Le Chat is closely related to Giacometti's lean, wiry figures that reached their apex during this period. In the years after the Second World War his figures, both human and bestial, were reduced to their essential form, displaying an austerity that embodies the artist's existentialist concerns. This sentiment is perhaps most powerfully expressed in Giacometti's image of a falling man, L'Homme qui chavire. Both Le Chat and L'Homme qui chavire were executed at the beginning of the artist's mature period, when his work was impacted by interactions with the prominent intellectuals of post-war Paris. Most notable among them was the Existentialist writer Jean-Paul Sartre, whom Giacometti had met in 1939. After the war, the two men engaged in long discussions about the philosophical dilemmas of existence in the modern world. Along with Samuel Beckett and Albert Camus, Giacometti incorporated these Existentialist concerns into his art.
Valerie Fletcher described the extent to which these philosophical underpinnings transformed Giacometti's creative vision during these years: "Giacometti did not evolve his postwar figurative art with the deliberate intention of creating an Existentialist art; his motivations were personal, instinctive, and aesthetic. Nonetheless Existentialist interpretations of Giacometti's art, although somewhat facile, are substantiated by the artworks themselves, especially those from 1946-52. A number of sculptures and paintings depict figures whose frail proportions and solitary stance within a large, often desolate space connote the essential isolation of the individual. In addition to such iconographic connections with Existentialism, Giacometti's art involved a profound philosophical investigation of the nature of the self. For Sartre and Giacometti, being is neither defined nor fully revealed by its apparent manifestations, it transcends description, although it is not separate from its phenomena, and so human consciousness remains always in flux" (V. Fletcher in Alberto Giacometti (exhibition catalogue), Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. & San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, 1988-89, p. 35).
It was in 1951, the year he executed Le Chat, that Giacometti had his first solo exhibition at Galerie Maeght, Paris. The show, which included the plaster cast of Le Chat, was a tremendous success and helped propel Giacometti to his status as one of the foremost avant-garde artists working in Paris. Subsequently the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York staged a retrospective exhibition of his work in 1955, and in the following year he exhibited a now celebrated group of large female figures at the Venice Biennial. Despite his growing success, Giacometti remained true to his working ethic and his profound material simplicity, retaining his small studio and returning every year to his native Stampa to visit his mother who would serve as his model. Writing about his personality and his disregard for conventions, Bernard Lamarche-Vadel recounted an anecdote: when asked whether in a burning house, he would save a painting by Rembrandt or a cat, Giacometti said that he would save the cat, an answer that reflects his personality better than any analysis (B. Lamarche-Vadel, op. cit., p. 143). It is this sense of humanity, coupled with the philosophical undertones that marked this era, that is so powerfully embodied in this work.
Other casts of Le Chat are in major public collections including The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght, Saint-Paul-de-Vence; The Berggruen Museum in Berlin, and the Stiftung Alberto Giacometti in Zürich.
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