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The Giacomettis – a Who’s Who

Updated: Jan 19, 2023

No doubt, the name Giacometti is well-known. The family members hold great artistic talent and come from the same valley in the south of Switzerland. At first, this may lead to confusion as to who is who, but it is less complicated than it seems.

Quatre figurines sur base, 1950, Kunsthaus Zurich

Let's start with the most famous family member: the sculptor Alberto Giacometti. He was the face of the Swiss 100 franc bank note for the last twenty years and is therefore recognizable throughout Switzerland. His works are traded for astronomical sums. Thanks to the Alberto Giacometti Stiftung, several works remain in Switzerland for public display. They are mostly in the hands of the Fondation Beyeler, Kunstmuseum Winterthur and Kunsthaus Zurich, where a whole floor is dedicated to a permanent display of Giacometti sculptures and paintings.

Alberto Giacometti at Kunsthaus Zurich

In addition, the Fondation Giacometti in Paris holds a great number of Giacometti's work, which belong to the estate of his wife Annette (not to be mixed up with Alberto's mother Annetta). The Fondation supports the exhibition, restoration and protection of the works. Alberto lived with Annette in Paris, where he liaised with Picasso, Miró and Calder, and to Annettes misfortune also prostitutes. An idea of those difficult times is provided by the movie «Final Portrait».

Alberto's younger brother Diego joined him in Paris. For many years he supported Alberto in his studio and became his model, as many other family members. Only later, he started his own career as a furniture designer. While Alberto dedicated his lifetime to the study of humans, Diego focussed on animals and made them part of his designs. Some of his works are on display at the Bündner Kunstmuseum in Chur.

Furniture of Diego Giacometti at Bündner Kunstmuseum

Bündner Naturmuseum von Bruno Giacometti

A quick stroll from the Kunstmuseum, just past the sculpture of Robert Indermaur, one encounters the Bündner Naturmuseum, which was built by the youngest of the brothers, Bruno Giacometti. Within the building, there is a wall painting by his father Giovanni. Bruno had opened his architecture bureau in Zurich, where he built many buildings, including the ones in the canton of Grisons where he grew up. Furthermore, he was dedicated to the arts and dealing with Alberto's estate. Thus, he became an important member of the Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft.

The three brothers had one sister, Ottilia. Her life journey was recently exhibited at the Kunsthaus Zürich, with works of Alberto and Giovanni. In the exhibition one could experience the strong family ties. Ottilia moved away from Stampa, to learn and work in Switzerland and abroad. She settled in Geneva with her husband Francis Berthoud, where she soon expected her first child Silvio.

With the birth of Silvio, the Giacometti family had to let go of Ottilia, who passed away, exhausted from giving birth.

Henceforward, the mother Annetta moved to Geneva, in order to take care of the newborn. Until then, Annetta had lived in Grisons, where she had raised the family together with her husband Giovanni. She was a frequent model, for both Giovanni's and Alberto's paintings. One Example is "La madre" by Giovanni, that shows her with her sons.

Giovanni shaped the art scene in Switzerland at the beginning of the 20th Century, along Cuno Amiet and Ferdinand Hodler. Besides portraits, he painted landscapes with colorful lights. Another friend of his was Giovanni Segantini, one of who's pictures he finished for him after his death. At Kunstmuseum Chur, one can experience their collaboration and influence on each other.

Augusto Giacometti is a second cousin of Giovanni. He too realized astonishing works. On his tombstone it says «Qui riposa il maestro dei colori», as he was famous for his color combinations and pastel paintings. The Bündner Kunstmuseum moreover holds several of his beautiful pieces. Particularly stunning is the Blüemlihalle in Zurich, where Augusto's work covers the whole ceiling of the police station entry. His attention to detail and vivid color choice can be witnessed in full. Augusto also created stained glass windows, which are not to my taste, but for those who are already visiting the Grossmünster or Fraumünster they are there nonetheless.

Alberto Giacometti at Kunstmuseum Zurich and Bündner Kunstmuseum

For those who seek more from the Giacomettis, finds it at the Centro Giacometti in Stampa and can follow their footsteps on the Art Walk.

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