The Lives of Artists — Diego Giacometti & His Circle

Launch Slideshow

Diego Giacometti's bronze works are some of the most iconic objects of 20th Century design, and several pieces will be offered for sale in the upcoming Design sale in Paris on 31 October. Here, we look back over Giacometti's friendship with art historian Robert Lebel and novelist Michel Butor, both of whom collected his work extensively. Click through to see Giacometti highlights from the Design sale.  

31 October 2017 | Paris

The Lives of Artists — Diego Giacometti & His Circle

  • Marcel Duchamp & Robert Lebel.
    Robert Lebel (1901-1986) was an art critic, essayist, poet and collector. A friend and adviser to André Breton, he was also the first biographer of Marcel Duchamp. Exiled to New York during the Second World War, he socialised with Yves Tanguy, Roberto Matta, Max Ernst, Alexander Calder, Wilfredo Lam and Dorothea Tanning, and developed a passion for the Eskimo art that he discovered there. Back in France, he became an expert on old masters, and worked with the art historian Maurice Rheims in Paris. 

  • Cover of the book on Marcel Duchamp by Robert Lebel.
    He published and signed a number of journals and short stories, and wrote major articles and books on artists such as Marcel Duchamp, René Magritte and Joan Miró. He was friends with Claude Lévi-Strauss and Jacques Lacan. In 2016 the Centre Pompidou paid him a tribute with an exhibition display in the middle of the permanent collections of the Museum. Among his acquaintances were Alberto and Diego Giacometti.

  • Diego Giacometti, Pair of Les Dompteuses table lamps, circa 1960, Patinated bronze. Estimate: €80,000–120,000.
    From Diego Giacometti he bought several pieces including this pair of Dompteuse lamps which we are presenting for auction. The model was made in about 1960, and is the only one in which the artist brings the animal world together with the human figure. A leopard, an owl, a frog, a mouse and a hawk twine around the two female heads topped by columns.


    The title Dompteuse (animal trainer) assumes a hint of irony, stressing the fact that these two women seem to have been caught and absorbed by the animal world so dear to the sculptor. This motif is the only one that Diego Giacometti also designed as the feet for coffee tables, bedheads or the bases for lamps, like the pieces illustrated here.

  • Michel Butor photographed by Olivier Roller.
    Michel Butor (1926-2016) was a poet, novelist, teacher, art critic and translator. He is famous for his novel La Modification, published in 1957. He was the last great figure of the Nouveau Roman alongside Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute and Claude Simon. After studying literature and philosophy, he became a writer and teacher, giving lectures and courses in Europe, the United States and Asia.


    Part of his correspondence, and collection of books and manuscripts are now kept in the Bibliothèque National de France (BNF).

  • Cover of the book Diego Giacometti by Michel Butor & Jean Vincent.
    Always curious-minded, he worked with many artists such as Miquel Barcelo and Pierre Alechinsky, and published several essays on Henri Michaux, Piet Mondrian, Mark Rothko and Diego Giacometti. He wrote an essay about Giacometti which was published to coincide with the publication of the first monograph devoted to the artist in 1985.


    Published by Adrien Maeght, this book illustrated with photographs by Jean Vincent showed many works by Diego Giacometti for the first time. 

  • Michel Butor in his office with sculptures by Diego Giacometti on his desk.
    The public also discovered Giacometti's works at the inauguration of the Musée Picasso in the same year, for which he had designed lighting and furniture.

    Michel Butor, who was by that time well acquainted with Diego Giacometti, owned these two pieces which are offered in the sale , and were placed on his desk. 

  • Diego Giacometti, Coupelle aux deux oiseaux, circa 1980, Patinated bronze. Estimate: €30,000–40,000.
    It is in fact quite rare to see this copy of the cup with two birds; we know pieces with a single bird, with its head straight or turned, but seldom both together on a cup. These pieces were in all likelihood made specially by Diego Giacometti for his friend and collector Michel Butor.

  • Diego Giacometti, Porte-Plume, circa 1980, Patinated bronze. Estimate: €30,000–50,000.
    It is thought that this pen holder was also made specially for the writer. The pen holder stood on Butor's desk, as shown in the previous photograph.

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos & 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

We use our own and third party cookies to enable you to navigate around our Site, use its features and engage on social media, and to allow us to perform analytics, remember your preferences, provide services that you have requested and produce content and advertisements tailored to your interests, both on our Site as well as others. For more information, or to learn how to change your cookie or marketing preferences, please see our updated Privacy Policy & Cookie Policy.