The 35 sculptures, 22 prints and 22 drawings in the exhibition span the two most intense phases of Giacometti's career - the surrealist period from 1929 to 1934 and the post World War II period from 1947 to 1965, when he produced the thin and unnaturally elongated figures for which he has become best known.
The works have been drawn from the Marguerite and Aimé Maeght Foundation in the south of France, which holds one of the most significant collections of Giacometti's work. In 1947 the Maeght family opened a gallery in Paris specialising in modern French art and were passionate advocates of Giacometti's work, holding exhibitions in the 1950s and early 60s. Aimé and Marguerite Maeght’s remarkable collection, which also includes work by Bonnard, Braque, Matisse, Miro, Chagall and Calder, is now on permanent display at the Maeght Foundation in Saint-Paul in the south of France.
Edmund Capon, director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales and curator of the exhibition, has collaborated with Madame Isabelle Maeght, the eldest grand-daughter of Marguerite and Aimé Maeght, to bring Giacometti's sculptures and a selection of his graphic works to Australia. The exhibition opens in Sydney and tours to Christchurch before returning to France, offering a rare opportunity to view Giacometti's work in Australia and New Zealand.
Madame Maeght will be travelling to Sydney for the opening of the exhibition and has contributed an essay to the catalogue which recalls her family's association with Giacometti and her own childhood recollections of him.
On display will be many of Giacometti's best-known sculptures, including the nine bronze casts comprising the Women of Venice series and the monumental walking male and standing female sculptures originally intended for the Chase Manhattan Plaza in New York. Three works from the Art Gallery of New South Wales will also be on display, including Woman of Venice VII and two lithographs. The inclusion of drawn portraits, landscapes, still-life and figure studies emphasises the importance of drawing as integral to the creation of his sculpture.
In the early 1920s Giacometti was immediately stimulated by the artistic atmosphere of the Montparnasse quarter of Paris, the centre of the art world. In early 1930s he became briefly involved in the surrealist movement until his shift towards representation. Giacometti remained in Paris for the rest of his life with the exception of a brief interlude in Geneva during the war and regular visits to Stampa, his birthplace in the Swiss Alps. In post-war Paris he continued to immerse himself in the lively intellectual and artistic debates frequently socialising with Picasso, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet and the existentialists Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. In 1961 he made a plaster tree as a stage set for Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot.
Edmund Capon has noted: "What is absolutely true about Giacometti's work is the search for a reality beyond the physical reality which is indeed the spirit of existentialism."
Giacometti's style of rendering the human figure was unique. As Reinhold Hohl has described in the catalogue "...he rendered what his eyes saw: figures occupying only a small, vertical area in his field of vision, like sticks in an expanse of open space. By focusing on the limits to the right and to the left of one's field of vision, we can all emulate this kind of perception, seeing figures as very slim and tall." It became clear to him that things and beings - the natural world from which he drew his subjects - could not simply be reproduced.
The mature period of Giacometti's work saw a return to representational art based on the study from life. He became obsessed, endlessly working and demanding of his models. His brother Diego and wife Annette sat for him for hours on end. He was extremely close to his brother who assisted with the technical aspects of his work.
Giacometti became a legend in his own time and in 1962 was awarded the Grand Prize for Sculpture at the Venice Biennale. Although a number of major retrospectives of his work were held during his lifetime in Zurich, London and New York, he was untouched by the many honours and riches bestowed upon him. He continued to live in his makeshift studio in the rue Hippolyte-Maindron until his death in 1966.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue and extensive series of public and education programs including an exhibition forum, film program, exhibition talks and lectures.