Giacometti 1

Alberto Giacometti, #4 Copy of Portrait of Madame Cézanne from 45 Drawings by Alberto Giacometti (Quarantacinque deisegni de Alberto Giacometti), 1963. © Alberto Giacometti Estate/Licensed by VAGA and ARS

Alberto Giacometti: 45 Drawings Portfolio

Location: Second-floor Gallery On View: January 20, 2017 - August 20, 2017


1962 was a good year for Alberto Giacometti. He received the grand prize for sculpture at the showcase for international art, the Venice Biennale; the highly respected Foundation Maeght published the first monograph of his work; and he watched the installation of his largest retrospective in his lifetime - 106 sculptures, 85 paintings and 100 drawings - at the Kunsthaus in Zurich. But 1963 turned Giacometti's world inside out. In February he underwent surgery for stomach cancer and his health rapidly declined. He died three years later.

In November 1963, nine months after his surgery, Giacometti printed a portfolio entitled 45 Drawings, a collection that reproduced selected drawings made over the course of his career, from the beginning of his art training up to the portfolio's publication. It was as if Giacometti sought to retrace all his explorations and developments as an artist and then, to preserve them for eternity, defining his artistic legacy for future generations of scholars, collectors and students. In this portfolio, we see an artist reckoning with his mortality, his life's work and the inevitable process of letting go, a beautiful and poignant love letter to the creative process.

To create the prints, Giacometti implemented the infrequently used photogravure process, a combination of photography and traditional intaglio printmaking, that's combined the traditional with the avant-garde, an apt mirroring of Giacometti's approach to representation, where to formal tradition of portraiture converged with the philosophical influences and experimentations of his time. To make a photogravure, the printer takes a metal plate, much like any other intaglio process, and cots it with a light-sensitive emulsion as in photography. The plate is then exposed to an image and the coating converts the marks of the image onto the plate. The marked portions of the plate are the etched, creating a surface that can be coated with ink, the etched sections retaining the ink, then the paper is placed on the plate, pushed through a plate and the image printed. The remarkable distinction between a photogravure and a plate that has been carved by an artist's hand is that the photogravure print, much like photocopy machines would do later, captures all of the smears and incidentals of the drawing, as well as the contours and shadings of the mark and passages of the eraser, which Giacometti used with as much intentionality as the crayon. However, the photomechanical aspect is converted into the sensuality of a print-acid-eaten incisions furrow beds for smeared ink.

The process allowed Giacometti and his editor, Lamberto Vitali, to distribute this visual timeline, the developmental arc of Giacometti's distinctive aesthetic, to a wide variety of museums and collectors, allowing them to live beyond the limited audiences they found in the private collections that owned the originals. It also emphasized the importance of this body of work as an academic exercise - necessary to understand Giacometti the artist - while not compromising the originality of the drawings.

Like many print portfolios, the publisher set up stages to imply a hierarchy of value. The publisher, Einaudi in Turin, Italy, printed 1,245 portfolios, the first 100 contained an original lithograph by Giacometti. The first five were kept by Giacometti, and TK. The Bechtlers purchased portfolio #756.

JeantingJean Tinguely - Albatros
© 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art is dedicated to the celebration and analysis of the strongest aspects of mid- century modernism as reflected in the holdings of the Bechtler collection.

The collection comprises
more than 1,400 works by 20th-century modern artists. Some works are accompanied by books, photographs and letters illustrating personal connections to the Bechtler family.


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