Annette or Portrait d'Annette au pull-over rouge
signed Alberto Giacometti (lower right)
oil on canvas
55 by 46cm.
21 5/8 by 18 1/8 in.
Robert B. Mayer, Chicago (acquired from the above in 1962. Sold: Christie's, New York, 14th November 1989, lot 84)
Acquired directly from the above
Paris, Orangerie des Tuileries, Alberto Giacometti, 1969-70, no. 192
Charles Juliet, Giacometti, Paris, 1985, illustrated in colour p. 85
Alberto Giacometti (exhibition catalogue), Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. & San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Art, 1988-89, mentioned p. 222
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'The human face is as strange to me as a countenance, which, the more one looks at it, the more it closes itself off and escapes by the steps of unknown stairways.'
Portrait d'Annette au pull-over rouge of 1961 is a striking portrait of the artist's wife, which Giacometti painted at the height of his career. Alongside his brother Diego, Annette was the artist's most important model and posed for him many times over the decades (fig. 1). In the early 1960s, Giacometti painted several portraits of Annette distinguished by the red jacket she is wearing. The colour of her clothing and the yellow background of the present work are a clear departure from the grey, grisaille-like palette that characterised most of his painted portraits. Another distinct feature of this composition is the sculptural quality of the figure. The textural complexity of Annette's sharply-rendered head rising from a voluminous bust, is strongly reminiscent of Giacometti's three-dimensional work. As Véronique Wiesinger commented: 'In the paintings of the 1960s, as Giacometti seemed to attempt to fuse painting and sculpture, he drew closer to Annette's face and concentrated on her bust: for Annette, as for Caroline, the construction of the face in successive layers lent it a sculptural character' (V. Wiesinger, The Women of Giacometti (exhibition catalogue), Pace Wildenstein, New York, 2000, p. 21).
Writing about a closely related portrait of Annette (fig. 2), now in the collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., Valerie Fletcher has commented that the work was probably executed during the summer spent in Switzerland, where Alberto and Annette stayed for the ninetieth-birthday celebration of the artist's mother. Her observation of that painting can equally be applied to Portrait d'Annette au pull-over rouge: 'The Hirshhorn Museum painting has a vivid coloration characteristic of Stampa paintings executed in day-light in contrast to those [...] painted at night under the single electric light in the Paris studio. In addition to the bright color, the assured execution in the Hirshhorn composition is reminiscent of paintings from the early 1950s' (V. Fletcher, in Alberto Giacometti (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., 1988, p. 222).
Women played a complex role in Giacometti's life and his representation of them occupies nearly half his artistic production. Giacometti met Annette Arm whilst living in Geneva during World War II. In 1946 she accompanied him back to Paris, and they eventually married in July 1949. The present work, Portrait d'Annette au pull-over rouge, demonstrates Giacometti's belief that a portrait should seek the essential quality of the sitter through distinctive features - in Annette's case, her raised head, dark curly hair, large eyes, pointed nose and delicate chin. The intense expression of the present work calls to mind the comments of the philosopher Jean Starobinski, who remarked on meeting Annette: 'She was a young woman who stood up 'facing you', who watched, and spoke, and met life 'head on', infinitely candid and infinitely reserved, in a wonderful frontality' (quoted in V. Wiesinger, op. cit., p. 18).
Valerie Fletcher has commented on the use of the framing device seen in this work and in many of Giacometti's paintings of this period: 'Giacometti's fascination with distorted space partially accounts for the frames he painted or drew around nearly all his images. He had begun this practice as early as 1917-18, but after 1946 it became almost standard. Recalling the Renaissance definition of a painting as a window on the world, this framing device opens up and encloses an imaginary three-dimensional reality. By isolating the figure in as remote and uncertain environment, Giacometti marks off the figure's space as distinct from our reality. When asked why he used these framing outlines, he replied: "Because I do not determine the true space of the figure until after it is finished. And with the vague intention of reducing the canvas, I try to fictionalize my painting... And also because my figures need a sort of no man's land"' (V. Fletcher in ibid., pp. 47-48).
For several decades the present work formed part of the celebrated collection of Robert B. Mayer, a founding member of Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art and a member of the purchasing committee of the Art Institute of Chicago. Robert B. Mayer and his wife Buddy assembled an impressive collection of over 2000 works, including contemporary paintings and sculpture, antiques and Oriental, Oceanic and African works. After Mayer's death in 1974, his wife established the Robert B. Mayer Memorial Loan Program, lending works from the collection to museums and universities across the United States.
Fig. 1, Alberto Giacometti painting a portrait of Annette, Stampa, 1960. Photograph by Ernst Scheidegger
Fig. 2, Alberto Giacometti, Annette, 1961, oil on canvas, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
Fig. 3, Alberto Giacometti, Portrait d'Annette à la blouse jaune, 1964, oil on canvas, Alberto Giacometti Foundation, Zurich