A Parisian epiphany and vision

Giacometti in Paris, Michael Peppiatt, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2023, ISBN: 9781526600974.

Alberto Giacometti’s story and career hinge on an epiphany on boulevard Saint-Michel in Paris. There, he viewed the artist Isabel Rawsthorne, with whom he was falling in love, from a distance and silhouetted against a big, dark doorway.

The vision that he retained and which he sought to realise from that point on throughout his life was one of the intensity of life in the human figure. In the static mediums of drawings, paintings and sculptures, the realisation of intensity and liveliness was an almost impossible aim, yet one that Giacometti rigorously attempted accepting always that failure was part of the deal.

Michael Peppiatt keeps this epiphany in view throughout, at the same time that he also describes Giacometti’s love affair with Paris and with the cultural and intellectual life of Paris from the 1920’s to the 1960’s.

Outside his humble studio – the focus for his life and art – Giacometti availed himself of Montparnasse’s cafes, nightclubs and brothels while interacting with artists and writers from Rawsthorne, Picasso and Breton to de Beauvoir, Sartre and Beckett. Linked to Surrealism and Existentialism, Giacometti ultimately had too individual a vision to remain aligned to such groups on an ongoing basis. As he himself expressed it, that vision was “not to reproduce reality, but to create a reality of the same intensity”.

Peppiatt, himself, arrived in Paris in 1966 with a letter of introduction to Giacometti, penned for him by Francis Bacon. That letter “was never handed over because Giacometti had just left Paris for the hospital in Switzerland where he died”. This double portrait of the artist and the city he loved is Peppiatt’s letter of introduction for his readers to an artist whose idiosyncratic life and loves lie hidden behind the intense focus and in-your-face realism of the standing figures and heads he created.     


Jonathan Evens






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