The skinny pedestrian sculpted by Giacometti and sold this year for 65 million pounds (then $103.4 million) has a twin in the south of France.
Six casts of “L’Homme Qui Marche I” exist in museums and private collections (plus four artist’s proofs). One, put on the block at Sotheby’s in London in February, ranks among the priciest works ever sold at auction.
Another lives permanently at the Fondation Maeght, in the pine-covered hills of Saint-Paul de Vence, near Nice.
The foundation, opened in 1964 and named after the late dealer Aime Maeght, is celebrating its 1.3-million-euro ($2 million) revamp with “Giacometti & Maeght: 1946-1966,” an exhibition curated by Maeght’s granddaughter Isabelle.
The show offers a dizzying array of the artist’s peak postwar works: ambling men, piazzas peopled with pin-shaped humans, slim-waisted women, and the elongated dog (“Le Chien,” 1951), his neck drooping with age, or weariness, or both. All told, 60 bronzes, 20 paintings, and 10 tiny plaster works (some now showing their wire backbone) illustrate the bond between the artist and his dealer.
There are also plenty of sketches, inks, doodles and figurines -- and a short, looping video that shows Giacometti in action. He toils in his messy atelier on Paris’s Left Bank, carving eye sockets into a bald clay head; then he hangs a sign outside his door saying he’s gone to the cafe-tabac next door (most probably the Cafe-Tabac Le Gaulois, where he downed countless coffees every day).
Maeght, originally a typographical designer, never set out to be a dealer. He and wife Marguerite ran a radio and furniture shop in Cannes in the 1930s, with an ad agency in the back that designed posters and packaging. To liven up their storefront, they festooned it with paintings by local artists.
When radio sets became scarce in wartime, the Maeghts switched to selling art. It helped to have major artists among their Riviera friends: Pierre Bonnard pressed Maeght to open a gallery in Paris, and Henri Matisse supplied drawings for the first exhibition. Before long, the Maeghts were heading up the No. 1 gallery in postwar Paris.
It was there that Giacometti staged a solo show in 1950. Six years later, he represented France at the prestigious Venice Biennale with “Femmes de Venise,” 10 plaster sculptures of women. Nine of them were later cast in bronze; you can see a full set of nine in Saint-Paul de Vence.
The walking man, or “L’Homme Qui Marche I,” was one of a group of bronzes that Giacometti made for Chase Manhattan Plaza in New York. When that commission fell through, he painted the bronzes and arranged them in a courtyard at the Maeght Foundation, where they usually stand. They have been brought inside for the purposes of the exhibition.
Less familiar gems in the show include two of Giacometti’s earliest known paintings -- one is a 1920 self-portrait where, in a post-Impressionist style, he boldly depicts himself as a young man with thick, dark curls.
The least engaging portraits are those of Madame Maeght. She strikes the same matronly pose everywhere, and gives little away. By contrast, the portrait of writer Jean Genet pulls you in: You sense disquiet in his gaze, in the way his fingers restlessly intertwine on the canvas.
Hanging among the portraits is “Caroline” (1961) -- Giacometti’s mistress, and a regular sitter in the runup to his death. He met the 21-year-old prostitute in a bar on the Left Bank. She soon became a dominant presence in his life, causing his wife Annette distress, and putting a strain on his finances (according to a chronology released by New York’s Museum of Modern Art for a 2001-2 retrospective).
“Giacometti & Maeght” offers a thorough overview of the man behind the headlines. For Riviera vacationers, the show -- and the wondrous vistas along the way -- are worth the drive through the hills.
“Giacometti & Maeght: 1946-1966” ends Oct. 31. Information: http://www.fondation-maeght.com/ or +33-4-9332-8163.
(Farah Nayeri writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)