Giacometti and Beckett: Existential Expats in Paris

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Giacometti and Beckett: Existential Expats in Paris
Alberto Giacometti was one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century. Samuel Beckett was one of the century’s most influential playwrights. They were an unlikely pair, but as expatriates in 1930s Paris, not only did they share mutual friends within Paris’s Surrealist and Existentialist circles, but they also shared the same philosophical viewpoints. The friendship between the Swiss artist and the Irish writer slowly grew into an enduring one that lasted almost 30 years. Giacometti 1944 Photo – Eli Lotar, Collection Fondation Giacometti,(c) Succession Giacometti Fondation Giacometti, Paris et ADAGP, Paris Since adolescence, Alberto Giacometti had been a very capable sculptor: his lean and distorted statues are what he’s renowned for. His art was influenced by artistic movements such as Cubism and Surrealism. His philosophical questions about the human condition led him to be compared to the literary Existentialists. Born in Switzerland in 1901, Giacometti was precociously artistic and was encouraged by his father and grandfather, both artists themselves. Giacometti working on the plaster sculpture for L’homme qui marche – The Walking Man 1958 – the Tate Alberto Giacometti arrived in Paris in January of 1922 to study sculpture. Until 1926, he regularly attended classes by the famed sculptor Emile-Antoine Bourdelle at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. Giacometti moved to his Montparnasse studio in December 1926. The door was always open to his fabled workspace and he would maintain his studio for the rest of his life. Giacometti soon became popular among the Paris avant-garde. In 1929, he met Jean Cocteau and soon ran in the same circles as the Surrealists. Giacometti was best man at André Breton’s wedding. The two-dimensional angularity of ancient Egyptian art was Giacometti’s source for the stylized striders he sculpted. His first twig-like sculptures made between 1938 and 1944 were tiny, reaching only 7cm (2.75”). He made these matchstick men small enough to render them isolated and alone in a perspectival space. Giacometti was expelled from the Surrealists in 1935 when the new life-like human heads he had created were deemed too real for Surrealist aims. Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture “Walking Man” at UNESCO. Photo: Andy Quan

Lead photo credit : Giacometti and Samuel Beckett in Giacometti's studio 1961, Public Domain

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A freelance writer and amateur historian, Hazel knew she wanted to focus on the lives of French artists and femme fatales after an epiphany at the Musée d'Orsay. A life-long learner, she is a recent graduate of Art History from the University of Toronto. Now she is searching for a real-life art history mystery to solve.


  • Sandra Smith
    2022-07-22 09:11:08
    Sandra Smith
    I never knew they were friends even though I taught Beckett's plays. Really interesting article - thank you!