Wednesday, 30 December 2015

'Giacometti: Pure Essence' at the National Portrait Gallery

The exhibition of Giacometti portraits at the National Portrait Gallery is only on for another couple of weeks so I popped along to see it while I could. I know nothing about Giacometti other than his name so this was a good opportunity to do some learning. Of course, being at the National Portrait Gallery, then the emphasis was on his portrait works, both on canvas and in statuary and that's a good enough place to start.

The very early works show a love a colour probably influenced by his father who was a post-impressionist painter himself, but when he moved to Paris to study his own style began to emerge. Most of his portraits seem to be of members of his family, particularly his brother and sister and then, in later life, his wife. Again and again, the same sitters , often in broadly the same poses. Giacometti seemed to get frustrated that he couldn't paint what he saw in front of him so he'd try again and then again, refining here and emphasising there, trying again to capture reality. This is possibly why, in some of the portraits the faces are over-worked as he tried to make them real and the body is left almost as an outline - it's the face where the secret to humanity lies and that's what he struggled to capture.

He travelled around and he painted, lived in different places and kept painting and making busts and sculptures. Tiny heads on big bodies in both paintings and busts and, occasionally, a long thin statue, trying to reduce things to a core of being. He became associated with the existentialists in Paris and was courted by Sartre and painted Genet. As his reputation grew it might be reasonable to expect a widening of his palette of subjects but no, he still returned to his brother and his wife as subjects. Almost as if he was still trying to get them right and capture their essences once and for all. I wonder if he ever felt he succeeded?

The exhibition's only on for another couple of weeks so if I've managed to whet your appetite, you know where to go.

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