Rue de l'Échaudé (Quatre figurines sur piédestal), executed in 1952, is a masterful drawing of one of the preeminent subjects of Giacometti’s art: the standing female figure. Delineated in swirls of ink, the female nude figures in the present work exert a powerful presence. Alongside the walking man, the standing female figure represented the absolute distillation of Giacometti’s existentialist perspective, whether depicted alone as in Femme nue debout in 1946 or as a group of four, the focus of the four figures still apparent in 1960 in Quatre figures et un tête (see figs. 2 & 3). Discussing the importance of these forms Christian Klemm writes: “With these weightless elongated figures, Giacometti extended an age-old tradition of imaging man and woman as symbolic representations of the elemental. The work limited to the core of human existence is symptomatic of a post-war era that was seeking out grounds for a new start, however minimal these might be. The lofty verticality of Giacometti’s figures, combined with their exquisite fragility, creates a tension with the base materiality of their composition that works to reflect the human condition caught between dignity, vulnerability and the ultimate fallibility” (C. Klemm, Alberto Giacometti (exhibition catalogue), Kunsthaus, Zurich, 2001, p. 150).
While a traditional approach might involve carefully drawn studies followed by experiments in plasters, and bronze casting only undertaken after all decisions are finalized, Giacometti turns such suppositions on their head. Here instead is a drawing created two years after the sculpted works, a continued meditation by the artist on his endless engagement with this subject specifically and his work as a whole. Two years after Giacometti created the first bronze version of Quatre figurines sur piédestal, the plaster Quatre figurines and another related bronze featuring figures twice as large as their base, the artist put pen to paper to capture this figural grouping once more. A combination of swirling loops, lines and imperfect shapes, these four women are created seemingly from nothingness. Valerie Fletcher writes about Giacometti’s practice of drawing sculpted works, specifically focusing on the present work: “In addition to depicting groups of sculptures in the studio, Giacometti occasionally focused on a single work. This method, which he had adopted by 1932, reverses the traditional practice of making drawings as preliminary studies for sculpture. Here he returned to the 1950 Four Figures on a Pedestal, originally inspired by women in a brothel on the rue de l’Échaudé. Having created figures from minimal material in sculpture, in this subsequent drawing he defined the figures with a remarkably economy. Each consists of a few rapid pen strokes, ranging from moderate fullness in the figure on the left to nearly insubstantial forms to the nude second from the right” (Alberto Giacometti 1901-1966 (exhibition catalogue), Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden & San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1988-89, p. 178).
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