London exhibitions. Alberto Giacometti at the National Portrait Gallery

London exhibitions. Alberto Giacometti at the National Portrait Gallery
Yareah Magazine
Annette IV by Alberto Giacometti, 1962; Tate, London 2015 © Alberto Giacometti Estate, 1962, ACS/DACS, 2015

Annette IV by Alberto Giacometti, 1962; Tate, London 2015 © Alberto Giacometti Estate, 1962, ACS/DACS, 2015

London exhibitions. The first ever exhibition solely to consist of portraits by the twentieth-century artist Alberto Giacometti opens at the National Portrait Gallery on Thursday 15 October.

Giacometti: Pure Presence (15 October 2015-10 January 2016) comprises over 60 works, including paintings, sculptures and drawings, spanning the entire range of the Swiss artist’s career. Including very rare loans from private collections and seldom-seen portraits, the exhibition marks the fiftieth anniversary of Giacometti’s death.

Best known for his sculptures of elongated figures, Alberto Giacometti (1901-66) is widely known as a leading twentieth century sculptor working alongside Picasso, Miró and Ernst in Paris in the 1920s.

But the Gallery’s exhibition emphasises the portraits also produced by the sculptor during this time at his family home in Switzerland where he steered a lesser-known, parallel artistic course. Beyond that, and covering the period 1914 to 1966, the exhibition reveals Giacometti’s life-long preoccupation with portraiture and ’copying appearance.’

Diego Seated by Alberto Giacometti, 1948; Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia © Alberto Giacometti Estate, 1948 ACS/DACS, 2015 Photo: James Austin

Diego Seated by Alberto Giacometti, 1948; Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia © Alberto Giacometti Estate, 1948 ACS/DACS, 2015 Photo: James Austin

Giacometti: Pure Presence focuses on the intensity of his relationships with frequent sitters such as members of his close family; Isabel Nichol (who later became Francis Bacon’s muse Isabel Rawsthorne); and the young woman Caroline, whom he met in 1960 and who sat for his portraits over the following five years.

Tracing Giacometti’s engagement with representing a human presence, Giacometti: Pure Presence displays portraits of all his main models, including his wife Annette and his brother Diego, as well as such friends as the writers Louis Aragon and Jean Genet, and the philanthropist Lord Sainsbury. The exhibition also features a room of photographs documenting the artist’s life.

Highlights include his earliest portrait bust of his brother Diego created in 1914 when he was just thirteen years old and his last bronze busts from 1965. These are displayed alongside an astonishing range of paintings and drawings which show Giacometti’s development from post-impressionist influences via cubism to expressionist portraits of figures in highly charged spaces, reminiscent of the ‘caged’ compositions of Francis Bacon.

Major sculptures on show range from a serene head of Isabel inspired by Egyptian sculpture to portraits of Diego and Annette: gnawed, dissolving heads and figures that became Giacometti’s trademarks. Such sculptures are frequently pared down to very small forms evoking the experience of observing the sitter from a distance.

One of the artist’s most celebrated tall hieratic figures Woman of Venice VIII, stands at the centre of the exhibition, making a vital contact between Giacometti’s portraits and his famous sculptures evoking an archetypal human presence.

Giacometti: Pure Presence is the first major Giacometti exhibition to be held in the United Kingdom since those at the Tate in 1965 and at the Royal Academy and Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in 1996, and is the first to focus exclusively on Giacometti’s engagement with the human figure and the creation of images of an individual human presence based on particular models. The title of the exhibition derives from the existentialist writer Jean-Paul Sartre, who referred to Giacometti’s endeavour to give ‘sensible expression’ to ‘pure presence.’

The loans are drawn from museums and private collections worldwide including Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark; Tate; Collection Fondation Giacometti, Paris; Alberto Giacometti Foundation, Zurich; Kunsthaus Zürich; Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel; Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia; KunstmuseumWinterthur; Staatsgalerie Stuttgart; V-A-C Foundation, Moscow; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Paul Moorhouse, Curator of Giacometti: Pure Presence, says: ‘Giacometti is widely celebrated as one of the giants of modern art, but his almost continuous involvement with portraiture is less well known. In devoting individual rooms to his main models, the exhibition exposes the singular, obsessive and intense nature of Giacometti’s portraits. Repetition, variation, accretion and dissolution are revealed as vital elements in his extraordinary vision.’

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘It is fitting that the National Portrait Gallery is staging this major exhibition of portraits by one of the greatest twentieth century artists, in the fiftieth anniversary year of his death. Including paintings, drawings and sculpture, the exhibition casts a new light on Giacometti’s startlingly original representation of the human figure.’

Andrea Sullivan, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, EMEA, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, says: ‘Maintaining a vibrant arts sector is crucial to ensuring strong communities and economies. Our global and diverse programme of cultural support has been developed with this in mind. We have a long-standing relationship with the National Portrait Gallery having partnered on recent exhibitions including Irving Penn Portraits and Lucian Freud Portraits and are pleased to be supporting this beautiful retrospective of Giacometti’s work.’

Giacometti: Pure Presence is curated by Paul Moorhouse, the National Portrait Gallery’s Curator of Twentieth Century Portraits. His previous exhibitions at the Gallery includeThe Great War in Portraits (2014), The Queen: Art and Image (2012) Gerhard Richter Portraits (2009), and Pop Art Portraits (2007).

His displays at the Gallery include Andy Warhol: 10 Portraits of Jews of the 20th Century; Bridget Riley: from Life; Jim Dine Portraits: Derek Boshier: Imaginary Portraits; Patrick Heron: Studies for a Portrait of T. S. Eliot; John Gibbons: Portraits; Frank Auerbach: Four Portraits of Catherine Lampert; Anthony Caro: Portraits; Tony Bevan – Self Portraits, Light, Colour, Texture – Matthew Smith and Frank Dobson; Jack Smith – Abstract Portraits and Thomas Struth Family Portraits.

 Giacometti: Pure Presence is designed by the Stirling-prize winning architects Stanton Williams, whose passion for art and architecture continues to guide their design ethos. Stanton Williams previously designed the Gallery’s Gerhard Richter Portraits (2009) and Pop Art Portraits (2007) exhibitions.


Sponsored by Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

The Gallery will stage workshops for schools with language and hearing impaired students and for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Two artists will work with the students both in the exhibition and the Gallery’s Learning Studio. The Gallery will engage the students with Giacometti’s practice through a series of tailored practical workshops. The hard-to-reach audiences who may have barriers to participating in cultural institutions, will be offered experiences not otherwise available in their schools. Some of the participants may not have been to a gallery or museum, and those who have, still require additional support to participate. Thanks to the support of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, it is possible to work with schools with which the Gallery has had a relationship but has not had the resources with which to deliver a project since 2013. The resulting work will be seen at a special view and photo-call on 7 January 2016.


15 October 2015 -10 January 2016, National Portrait Gallery, London Admission Charge.

Sponsored by Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Tickets with donation: Full price £17 / Concessions £15.50.

Tickets without donation Full price £15 / Concessions £13.50 (Free for Members and Patrons).

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