'In the street people astound and interest me more than any sculpture or painting. Every second the people stream together and go apart, then they approach each other to get closer to one another. They unceasingly form and re-form living compositions in unbelievable complexity' (Giacometti, quoted in R. Hohl, 'Form and Vision: The Work of Alberto Giacometti', pp. 13-46, Alberto Giacometti: A Retrospective Exhibition, exh. cat., New York, 1974, p. 31).
Trois hommes qui marchent I is an early lifetime cast of one of Alberto Giacometti's famous multi-figure compositions, showing three men passing each other as though in a street. This work was conceived around 1948 and cast by 1951. It therefore dates from what is considered to be the height of Giacometti's creative powers, a window of several years during which he honed the iconic vision for which he is now famed - his elongated, stick-thin figures - and produced a string of masterpieces tapping into this new artistic solution. It is a reflection of the importance of Trois hommes qui marchent I that casts of it are held by several museums, as are casts of many of the related works from the era. Of all of Giacometti's subjects, it is perhaps the striding man that is most recognised; its fame has been increased because it is so emblematic of Giacometti himself, who often wandered around Paris' streets, a twentieth-century flâneur. Here, the three figures are weaving their way past each other, connected yet isolated, the perfect embodiment of city life and the human condition during the post-war years of existentialism.
Sculptures such as Trois hommes qui marchent I and the two versions of La place pushed forward the aesthetic that Giacometti developed as a result of, and remedy for, an impasse that had hampered him for several years. During the mid-1940s, following his association with Surrealism, he had begun to create works that he hoped would be more readily legible than his more allusive sculptures from the 1930s. Accordingly, he was making works based on the human figure in which he sought to capture the kernel of their existence; yet as Giacometti pared away the material, he found that his sculptures were shrinking to miniscule proportions. This reached an extreme when he arrived at a gallery with an array of his works held in match boxes.
Giacometti believed that his tiny figures were a result of the way he saw the world. As he explained, 'Until the war I believed I saw people in the distance life-size. Then, little by little, I realised that I was seeing them much smaller - and even when they were near to me, not only when they were far away. The first few times this happened, I was just walking somewhere' (Giacometti, quoted in D. Honisch, 'Scale in Giacometti’s Sculpture’, pp. 65-69, Alberto Giacometti: Sculpture, Paintings, Drawings, ed., A. Schneider, Munich & New York, 1994, p. 66). The idea of motion thus remains integral to his discovery. His small figures were the result of what Giacometti felt to be his attachment to a true depiction of the phenomenological world that he was experiencing and viewing. However, that distance, which resulted in the miniature figures, was clearly an issue. The solution that led to sculptures such as Trois hommes qui marchent I and the formation of Giacometti's iconic post-war aesthetic came about through an epiphany, in which he saw the world anew, having been to the cinema. He was suddenly aware of the gap between the photographic images of people and the reality around him:
'It happened after the war, around 1945, I think. Until then... there was no split between the way I saw the outside world and the way I saw what was going on on the screen. One was a continuation of the other. Until the day when there was a real split: instead of seeing a person on the screen, I saw vague blobs moving. I looked at the people around me and as a result I saw them as I had never seen them... I remember very clearly coming out on to the Boulevard du Montparnasse and seeing the Boulevard as I had never seen it before. Everything was different: depth, objects, colours and the silence... Everything seemed different to me and completely new’ (Giacometti, quoted in M. Peppiatt, Alberto Giacometti in Postwar Paris, exh. cat., New Haven & London, 2001, p. 7).
This was a great revelation for Giacometti, and a watershed in his way of seeing the world. 'That day, reality took on a completely new value for me,' he explained. 'It became the unknown, but an enchanted unknown. From that day on, because I had realized the difference between my way of seeing in the street and the way things are seen in photography and film,- I wanted to represent what I saw. Only from 1946 have I been able to perceive the distance that allows people to appear as they really are and not in their natural size’ (Giacometti, quoted in Honisch, op. cit., 1994, p. 65). Now, that distance expressed itself not in the miniaturisation of the figures, but instead in their verticality: they became threadbare, wisps of material traversing the urban planes: 'After 1945 I swore to myself that I wouldn't allow my statues to keep getting smaller, not one iota smaller. But what happened was this: I was able to keep the height, but they became thin, thin... tall and paper-thin' (Giacometti, quoted in ibid., p. 67).
This is clearly the case in Trois hommes qui marchent I, with its three walking men, each of whom has most mass around his feet. The rest of their bodies is essentially filiform, an image of man reduced to the barest necessity, and therefore all the more raw and poignant. These figures become expressions of man's vertical thrust, of life, of the drive of existence - it was no coincidence that, when Giacometti had an exhibition in 1948, around the time that Trois hommes qui marchent I was created, the foreword to the catalogue was written by Jean-Paul Sartre. These thin men show their upward thrust, yet are filled with a sense of fragility that only heightens their existential credentials. As the artist himself said, 'I always have the impression or the feeling of the frailty of living beings, as if at any moment it took a fantastic energy for them to remain standing, always threatened by collapse. And it is in their frailty that my sculptures are likenesses' (Giacometti, quoted in J. Lord, Giacometti: A Biography, New York, 1985, p. 178). It was doubtless this interest in frailty and verticality that led to the admiring words of Barnett Newman, who visited the 1948 exhibition in which the elongated figures had their first public exposure: 'Giacometti made sculptures that looked as if they were made of spit - new things with no form, no texture, but somehow filled; I took my hat off to him' (Newman, quoted in Honisch, op. cit., 1994, p. 67).
Giacometti's show at Pierre Matisse's gallery in 1948 was a retrospective that exhibited some of his older works as well as highlighting the importance of the new developments in his art. It had a huge impact and paved the way for the artist's post-war fame. In the years between that exhibition and his next with Matisse, held in 1950, he had expanded upon his filiform characters, creating a number of works such as Trois hommes qui marchent I which explored different aspects of the new aesthetic. His multi-figure compositions such as this and La place introduced a sense of interrelationship between the people depicted. The idea of placing these figures together may in part have been suggested by Giacometti's cramped studio, where all the sculptures were crammed together - certainly, his later sculpture La clairière, with male and female figures of different scales, was the result of a chance arrangement of his sculptures on the floor there. These group sculptures also tapped into Giacometti's interest in human relationships - perhaps made keener by his own relationship with Annette Arm, whom he would marry in 1949. In addition to conjuring a sense of the thread of each individual life in Trois hommes qui marchent I, Giacometti was also reflecting on the social nature of humanity. He would bristle at the suggestion that he was an 'artist of solitude,' declaring: 'as a citizen and a thinking being I believe that all life is the opposite of solitude, for life consists of a fabric of relations with others. The society in which we live in the West has made it necessary in a sense for me to pursue my activities in solitude. For many years it was hard for me to work isolated from society (but not, I hope, isolated from humanity). There is so much talk about the malaise throughout the world and about existential anguish, as if it were something new. All people have felt that, and at all periods. One has only to read the Greek and Latin writers!' (Giacometti, quoted in Lord, op. cit., 1985, pp. 309-310).
It is this social fabric that is reflected in the three men in Trois hommes qui marchent I, and indeed in the more numerous figures in the two versions of La place, where the striding men are shown in contrast to a static woman.
That connection between the people in these multi-figure works and the city is heightened by some of the possible sources for the vision. Yves Bonnefoy suggested that the striding men may have owed something to Auguste Rodin (see Y. Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti: A Biography of His Work, trans. J. Stewart, Paris, 1991, pp. 316-17). And the notion of public statuary with which Rodin was so associated may have also emerged from another source. For in post-war Paris, Giacometti had been nominated to create a public statue in order to replace one of the many sculptures that had been removed and melted down during the recent Occupation. Giacometti was asked to create something to replace a statue of Jean Macé; however, his suggestion was his Chariot, the figure of a woman mounted on wheels. This led to the end of the project; however, it revealed the interest in art within a public area, where people thread their ways between each other, and this may well have influenced his subsequent works such as La place I and II, and indeed, Trois hommes qui marchent I and II.
Trois hommes qui marchent I
Please note that this work was gifted to the Museum of Modern Art in 1967 from the personal collection of Harriet and Sidney Janis and not as stated in the catalogue.
Please also note the additional literature reference for this work:
The Alberto and Annette Giacometti Association Database, no. S-2014-3.
THE PROPERTY OF THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK, SOLD TO BENEFIT THE ACQUISITIONS FUND
Signed 'A Giacometti’ (on the side of the platform); inscribed with the foundry mark ‘Alexis.Rudier Fondeur. Paris’ (on the base)
All other categories of objects
Kassel, Documenta II, July - October 1959, no. 1, p. 75 (illustrated).
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, XXth Century Artists, October - November 1960, no. 22 (illustrated).
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, European Artists from A to V, January - February 1961.
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, 2 Generations: Picasso to Pollock, March - April 1964.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection, January 1968 - August 1970; this exhibition later travelled to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, The Portland Museum of Art, the Pasadena Art Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Seattle Art Museum, Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Basel, Kunsthalle, London, Institute of Contemporary Arts and Berlin, Akademie der Kunste.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Painting and Sculpture Galleries, May 1974 - January 1975.
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Exhibition of paintings, sculpture and drawings, commemorating the tenth anniversary of the death of Alberto Giacometti, January 1976, no. 4.
Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, July - September 1981.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Painting and Sculpture Galleries, May 1984 - April 1986.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Sculptors’ Drawings, April - September 1986.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Painting and Sculpture Galleries, September 1986 - July 1992.
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
Height: 28 ½ in. (72.4 cm.)
J. Dupin, Alberto Giacometti, Paris, 1962 p. 245 (another cast illustrated).
R.J. Moulin, Giacometti: Sculptures, New York, 1964, pl. 5 (another cast illustrated).
R. Hohl, Alberto Giacometti, New York, 1971, no. 126, pp. 126 & 307 (another cast illustrated).
W. Rubin, Three Generations of Twentieth-Century Art: The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1972, no. 30, pp. 110-111, 184 (illustrated pp. 111 & 226).
B. Lamarche-Vadel, Alberto Giacometti, Paris, 1984, no. 183, p. 129 (another cast illustrated).
Y. Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti: A Biography of his Work, Paris, 1991, no. 305, pp. 330-333 (another cast illustrated p. 333).
S. Pagé, Alberto Giacometti: Sculptures, Peintures, Dessins, Paris, 1991, p. 192 (another cast illustrated).
A. Schneider, ed., Alberto Giacometti: Sculpture, Paintings, Drawings, New York, 1994, no. 53 (another cast illustrated).
D. Sylvester, Looking at Giacometti, London, 1994, no. 193, pp. 149, 150 & 252 (another cast illustrated p. 193).
A. González, Alberto Giacometti: Works, Writings, Interviews, Barcelona, 2006, p. 86 (another cast illustrated p. 87).
V. Wiesinger, ed., The Studio of Alberto Giacometti: Collection of the Fondation Alberto et Annette Giacometti, Paris, 2007, no. 484, p. 364, fig. 500 (illustrated in installation view of the Alberto Giacometti exhibition at Galerie Maeght, 1951; illustrated again p. 389 in the installation view of European Artists from A to V, Sidney Janis Gallery, 1961).
M. Brüderlin & T. Stooss, eds., Alberto Giacometti: The Origin of Space, Germany, 2010, p. 127 (another cast illustrated).
The Alberto and Annette Giacometti Association Database, no. S-2014-3.
Galerie Maeght, Paris, by whom acquired directly from the artist in 1951.
Harriet and Sidney Janis, New York, by whom acquired from the above in April 1960.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, a gift from the above in 1967.
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