Alberto Giacometti

Four Figurines on a Stand

1950–1965, cast c.1965–6

Not on display

Alberto Giacometti 1901–1966
Original title
Quatre figurines sur piédestal
Object: 1562 × 419 × 314 mm
Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1965

Display caption

Giacometti related this work to his memory of sitting in a Paris brothel and seeing four naked women at the far end of the room. ‘The distance which separated us, the polished floor, seemed insurmountable in spite of my desire to cross it and impressed me as much as the women’, he recalled. The tiny size of the figures and the heavy base with sloping sides, which suggests a receding floor, recreates the sense of distance and confrontation experienced by the artist.

Gallery label, November 2005

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Catalogue entry

Alberto Giacometti 1901-1966

T00773 Quatre Figurines sur Base (Four Figurines on a Base) 1950 and 1965

Inscribed '4/6 | Alberto Giacometti' back l. and 'Susse-Fondeur-Paris' back r.
Bronze, 61 x 16 1/2 x 12 3/8 (155 x 42 x 31.5)
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) with the aid of the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1966
Lit: exh. catalogue Alberto Giacometti, Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, November 1950, pp.14-15 (first version repr. p.15); David Sylvester, 'The Residue of a Vision' in exh. catalogue Alberto Giacometti: Sculpture Paintings Drawings 1913-65, Tate Gallery, July-August 1965, n.p. (different version repr. pl.20); Reinhold Hohl, Alberto Giacometti: Sculpture Painting Drawing (London 1972), pp.102, 139-40 (different version repr. p.128)

A bronze cast of the first version of this work was exhibited at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, in November 1950 (repr. in catalogue p.15) with the following explanatory comment by the artist taken from a letter to Pierre Matisse:

'Several nude women seen at the "Sphinx", while I was seated at the end of the room. The distance which separated us, the polished floor, seemed insurmountable in spite of my desire to cross it and impressed me as much as the women'. The tall stand and heavy slab-like base with sloping sides (which evoke the recession of the floor) serves to distance the row of fragile slender figures. At about the same time he made a related sculpture 'Quatre Femmes sur Socle' (Four Women on a Base) on the same theme of women in brothels but inspired by the closeness of the women and the crushing, even frightening, lack of space in a tiny room on the Rue de l'Echaudé. This sculpture also comprises a row of four standing figures on a block-like base, but has no stand, and achieves an effect of closeness rather than distance partly through a reversal of its proportions: the figures are more elongated and are nearly twice the height of the base, which is smaller and has vertical instead of sloping sides; in addition the figures are set slightly closer together.

Giacometti was dissatisfied with the figurines and often remade them. For the Tate Gallery exhibition he made two more sets of figures, one in Coire and the other in London. The plaster used for the London set was defective and they were destroyed, so the Coire set was exhibited at the Tate Gallery, July-August 1965 (39) and the Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, September-October 1965 (37) in the form of painted plaster figurines on a bronze base. The present cast was made afterwards from this version. Compared with the first set, these are shorter and more fully modelled, with bigger heads and more clearly articulated arms.

On the Sphinx, a brothel on the Boulevard Edgar-Quinet in Montparnasse much frequented by artists, see Brassaï, The Secret Paris of the 30's (London 1976), n.p.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.280, reproduced p.280

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