Study visit: Alberto Giacometti | A line through time


Giacometti’s work was a strong influence on Francis Bacon. You can see it clearly  in this sculpture, Cube (version 1)

Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich Saturday 25 June 2016

This was a great opportunity to enjoy Alberto Giacometti’s (1901-1966) trade mark elongated bronze figures. It was also fascinating to take a close look at some of his drawings and paintings in which vertical marks and brush strokes echo the lines and textures of his statues; this gives them a sense of physicality.

I was immediately struck by a 1920 self portrait and this continued to be the piece I responded to most deeply. The texture of the hair, so like the clay that Giacometti  manipulates with his fingers, and the multiple colours used to depict the skin including dabs of turquoise, giving it huge vitality.  He seems to have used quite dry paint manipulated almost as if it were clay but the effect is subtle, not that of heavy impasto.  This is a painting that has to be seen in the flesh as the detail doesn’t reproduce well online.


A4 sketchbook (pen and watercolour pencil) : Diego in a Sweater (bronze) 1953

The exhibition commemorated the 50th anniversary of the artist’s death and focused on the importance of line in his practice, his influences and the work of artists that he influenced.

For many of the major artists at the core of Modernism in the first half of the twentieth century, their main aim was “to achieve timelessness and universality in their art, to make things that moved beyond the specificity of period and place, to say something about the human condition” (Paul Greenhalgh in his introduction to the exhibition guide).

Regarded as one of the leading surrealist sculptors, Giacometti preferred models he was close to including his wife Annette, his younger brother, Diego and  his sister. The artist Isabel Rawsthorne also modelled for him and this is when he began to elongate his statues. Rawsthorne’s work was also in the exhibition and is worthy of a mention as her profile as an artist in her own right is not as high it ought to be. She also modelled for Francis Bacon. You can see very clearly in Giacometti’s drawings, such as Diego seated (1948) and in his sculpture The Cage (first version) 1950 (see above) which encases the figure in a cube, that he had an influence on Bacon’s work.

I wasn’t surprised to discover that Giacometti’s own work was influenced by African, Egyptian, Roman and Etruscan ancient art. I had speculated about this in a blog post a while back when coming across a series of small metal votive statues in a Museum in Umbria.

This was an excellent study visit led by OCA tutor Hayley Lock and a very welcome opportunity to compare notes with  fellow students. There is much more I could write but suffice to say that I enjoyed the exhibition enough to buy the book which I will certainly reference again for the distinctive drawings. A visit to the Sainsbury Centre is always a pleasure and one of these days I will devote a day to the permanent collection which is eclectic and extensive.



standing-woman-front standing-woman-back



A4 sketchbook: Pen and watercolour pencil: Looking at Giacometti’s Standing Woman, 1950 (bronze) from all angles.





Alberto Giacometti, A line Through Time, Bloomsbury Publishing / Sainsbury Centre, 2016

Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, Norwich |



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