Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)
Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)

Tête qui regarde (Gazing Head)

Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)
Tête qui regarde (Gazing Head)
signed and dated 'Alberto Giacometti 1928' (on the back above the base)
15 7/8 x 14 1/4 x 2 3/8 in. (40.4 x 36.2 x 5.9 cm.)
Executed in 1929
Denis & Fiona Clarke Hall, London and Paris, by whom acquired directly from the artist, with assistance from S. J. Woods, London, circa 1936-1939, and thence by descent to the present owner.
M. Leiris, 'Alberto Giacometti', in Documents, Issue 4, September 1929, p. 211 (another plaster cast illustrated).
C. Gideon-Welcker, 'New Roads in Modern Sculpture', in Transition, 1935, pp. 198-201 (another plaster cast illustrated).
J. Dupin & E. Scheidegger, Alberto Giacometti, Paris, 1962, p. 197 (another plaster cast illustrated).
P. Bucarelli, Giacometti, Rome, 1962, no. 6 (another plaster cast illustrated p. 90).
Exh. cat., Alberto Giacometti: Sculpture, Paintings, Drawings, 1913-1965, Tate Gallery, London, 1965, no. 8 (another plaster cast illustrated pl. I).
Exh. cat., Alberto Giacometti, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1965, p. 32 (bronze cast illustrated).
Exh. cat., Alberto Giacometti, Orangerie des Tuileries, Paris, 1969, no. 12, p. 19 (another plaster cast illustrated).
R. Hohl, Alberto Giacometti, Lausanne, 1971, p. 306 (another plaster cast illustrated p. 48).
Exh. cat., Die Sammlung der Alberto Giacometti Stiftung, Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich, 1971, p. 78 (marble version illustrated).
Exh. cat., Alberto Giacometti: A Retrospective Exhibition, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1974, nos. 11 & 13 (bronze cast illustrated p. 54; marble version illustrated p. 55).
Exh. cat., Alberto Giacometti, Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul, 1978, no. 9, p. 73 (bronze cast illustrated).
Exh. cat., Alberto Giacometti, The Seibu Museum of Art, Tokyo, 1983 (bronze cast illustrated pl. 5).
B. Lamarche-Vadel, Alberto Giacometti, Paris, 1984, no. 62, pp. 45 & 174 (marble version illustrated p. 45; a design drawing illustrated p. 174).
Exh. cat., Alberto Giacometti, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Martigny, 1986, no. 51, p. 264 (marble version illustrated p. 55).
J. Lord, Giacometti: A Biography, New York, 1986, pp. 110 & 153 (marble version illustrated pp. 178-179).
Exh. cat., Alberto Giacometti, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1988, no. 9, p. 82 (marble version illustrated p. 83).
Exh. cat., Alberto Giacometti, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, 1990, no. 152, p. 370 (another plaster cast illustrated p. 371).
Y. Bonnefoy, Alberto Giacometti, A Biography of His Work, Paris, 1991, pp. 148-149, 153, 156-157 & 162 (a design drawing illustrated fig. 144, p. 152; marble version illustrated fig. 145, p. 153; another plaster cast illustrated fig. 147, p. 155).
Exh. cat., Alberto Giacometti, sculptures, peintures, dessins, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 1991 p. 123 (marble version illustrated).
Exh. cat., Alberto Giacometti, sculptures, peintures, dessins, Fondation Basil et Elise Goulandris, Andros, 1992, p. 66 (bronze cast illustrated).
Exh. cat., A Century in Sculpture, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1992 (marble version illustrated).
A. Schneider, ed., Alberto Giacometti, Sculpture, Paintings, Drawings, Munich & New York, 1994, no. 15 (marble version illustrated).
D. Sylvester, Looking at Giacometti, London, 1994, p. 252 (another plaster cast illustrated p. 177).
Exh. cat., Alberto Giacometti, Royal Academy, London, 1996, no. 56, p. 143 (bronze cast illustrated p. 142).
V. Wiesinger & B. Nilsson, Alberto Giacometti, Stockholm, 2006, p. 52 (another plaster cast illustrated).
A. González, Alberto Giacometti: Works, Writings, Interviews, Barcelona, 2006, p. 34 (marble version illustrated p. 23).
V. Wiesinger, Giacometti: La figure au défi, Paris, 2007, p. 31 (another plaster cast illustrated).
Exh. cat., L'atelier d'Alberto Giacometti, Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2007, no. 88, pp. 113,119 & 401 (another plaster cast illustrated pl. 97, p. 93 and pl. 416, p. 284; terracotta version illustrated pl. 417, p. 284).
Exh. cat., Giacometti, Fondation Beyeler, Basel, 2009, no. 32, p. 216 (another plaster cast illustrated p. 62).
V. Wiesinger, ed., Giacometti, Sao Paulo, 2012, p. 339 (another plaster cast illustrated p. 140).
V. Wiesinger, ed., Alberto Giacometti, A Retrospective, Barcelona, 2012, pp. 27 & 139 (another plaster cast illustrated).
E. Scheidegger, Alberto Giacometti, Traces of a Friendship, Zurich, 2013, p. 239 (bronze cast, marble version and another plaster cast
illustrated p. 140).
La sculpture: De l'Antiquité au XXe siècle, Cologne, 2013, p. 1006 (another plaster cast illustrated).
T. Matthews, Alberto Giacometti, London, 2014, p. 177 (another plaster cast illustrated pl. 35).
Exh. cat., Giacometti, Tate Gallery, London, 2017, p. 294 (another plaster cast and terracotta version illustrated p. 150).
The Alberto and Annette Giacometti Foundation Database, no. 4054.
London, Duncan Miller Ltd., Modern Pictures for Modern Rooms: An Exhibition of Abstract Art in Contemporary Settings, April 1936, no. 3.
London, New Burlington Galleries, The International Surrealist Exhibition, June - July 1936, no. 119, p. 19.


'I know sculptures by Giacometti that are so solid and light that they look like snow retaining the footprints of a bird’
- Jean Cocteau

‘The title of the first work to attract attention, Téte qui regarde, seems to sum up the man. Deep down, in the highly individualised exercise of looking, man and artist converge. His gaze was described by friends, lovers, and models many times: at the same time seductive and penetrating, mocking and bewildering. No one could remain indifferent to his presence’
- Catherine Grenier

Situated at the dawn of Alberto Giacometti’s Surrealist period, this recently rediscovered Téte qui regarde (Gazing Head) marks a defining moment in the sculptor’s career. Executed in 1929, it is the first and most important of a series of around eight standing plaque sculptures; abstracted and highly simplified renderings of the human form. Upon a radiant white plaster surface, two elongated indentations – one vertical, the other horizontal, and both so shallow and delicately rendered they seem almost invisible amidst the expansive plane, dissolve into the plaster – serve as supremely simplified physiognomic features, conveying both a head seen in profile or frontally. Here, the human form is reduced to its very essence, these gentle, somehow elusive indentations appearing as if from memory or simply from our knowledge of what should be there, a reflection of our own presence and being.

Of this breakthrough group, Téte qui regarde has been recognised as the key work; indeed, Giacometti himself described it as ‘the one I prefer out of all of them’ (Giacometti, quoted in C. Grenier, Alberto Giacometti, A Biography, Paris, 2018, p. 71). It not only attracted attention from artists and collectors alike, launching the artist into the heart of the avant-garde, but would come to serve as the embodiment of Giacometti’s lifelong artistic preoccupations: the human head, the gaze and the act of looking. Yet perhaps most importantly, the work introduces the dichotomy between abstraction and reality that would underpin the artist’s work from this moment onwards.

Téte qui regarde was created at a pivotal moment in Giacometti’s career. Having arrived in Paris in 1922, Giacometti had begun studying under Bourdelle. Gradually immersed in the contemporary art world of Paris, he soon adopted a cubist idiom, falling under the influence of non-Western art, particularly Cycladic idols, which led him to conceive of an entirely new form of abstract, and most importantly, a conceptual mode of sculpture. Téte qui regarde and the series of plaques developed out of a series of heads that Giacometti had made of his family the previous summer and autumn of 1927. With these works, the artist attempted only to portray what he could see of the figure in front of him, rather than what he knew to be there, flattening the heads in this new mode of sculptural modelling. During winter of 1928, Giacometti pushed this concept further until this simplification process reached its culmination in the form of the plaques, works in which the human form is depicted with the most simple of signs.

Giacometti later recalled the genesis of Téte qui regarde:

‘What I really felt was reduced to a plaque posed in space in a certain way, and with just two hollows, which were, if you like, the vertical and horizontal forms you find in every figure... In making this plaque I began by wanting to make from memory exactly what I had seen. I started well enough by analysing a figure, with the legs, the head, the arms, but it all seemed wrong… To get nearer to my idea I had to sacrifice more and more, to reduce it…leave the head off, the arms, everything. All that remained of the figure was this plaque… It took a great deal of time to arrive at that plaque… It seemed to me to correspond in a way to things and to myself’ (Giacometti in a 1951 interview with Georges Charbonnier, quoted in T. Stooss & P. Elliott, Alberto Giacometti, 1901-1966, exh. cat., Edinburgh & London, 1996-1997, p. 143).

It was this radical approach to art making that brought Giacometti to the attention of the Surrealists. In June 1929, Giacometti included another plaster version of Téte qui regarde at an exhibition at the Galerie Jeanne Bucher. André Masson saw this work and told the poet and writer Michel Leiris about the young Swiss artist’s work. Soon after, Leiris visited Giacometti’s studio and subsequently wrote the first article on the artist ever to be published in the Surrealist journal, Documents. Jean Cocteau was another early supporter of these sculptures, writing, ‘I know sculptures by Giacometti that are so solid and light that they look like snow retaining the footprints of a bird’ (Cocteau, quoted in C. Grenier, op. cit., p. 71).

As well as artists, this early exhibition also introduced Giacometti’s work to a number of notable collectors as well as dealers. Téte qui regarde was immediately popular. The legendary Surrealist patrons, the Vicomte and Vicomtesse Charles and Marie-Laure de Noialles bought a plaster version from Jeanne Bucher’s exhibition. The present plaster was acquired from Giacometti in the late 1930s by an English architect and his wife, Denis and Fiona Clarke Hall. Denis Clarke Hall was one of Britain’s leading post-war architects who specialised in the design of schools. Having studied under Henry Moore, Fiona had spent time in Paris as an art student at the famed Académie de la Grande Chaumière. It was in Paris that she had met Isabel Delmer (who would later become Isabel Rawsthorne) with whom she became close friends, both sitting regularly for Derain. Delmer would become in the 1930s Giacometti’s lover and muse, and it was through her that the Clarke Halls first met the artist.

It was Delmer who also introduced Sydney John Woods, a writer and passionate advocate of modern art in London and Paris, to Giacometti. Indeed, Woods borrowed the present Téte qui regarde from Giacometti to include in an innovative exhibition that he had organised, ‘Modern Pictures for Modern Rooms’, which featured work by Brancusi, Miró, Mondrian, Hepworth and others, together with contemporary works of design, in London in April 1936. A few months later, Woods also lent this work to the landmark International Surrealist Exhibition held in London in the summer of 1936. Much to his sadness, Woods was unable to purchase Téte qui regarde for himself. Instead, the Clarke Halls acquired the work from Giacometti. It has remained in their family ever since.

A number of plaster versions of the present work exist – one of which resides in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and another the Fondation Giacometti, Paris – as well as in bronze and marble. Giacometti carved three marble versions of this subject; one is in the collection of the Alberto Giacometti-Stiftung, Zurich, and another is in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. Julien Levy showed a plaster as the earliest sculpture in Giacometti's solo American debut exhibition in 1934 in New York, and a plaster also featured in the landmark exhibition of Giacometti's work at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, in 1948.

Indeed, since the time of its execution, Téte qui regarde has come to serve not only as one of the defining works of Giacometti’s career, but also as the embodiment of the artist himself. As Catherine Grenier has described: ‘The title of the first work to attract attention, Téte qui regarde, seems to sum up the man. Deep down, in the highly individualised exercise of looking, man and artist converge. His gaze was described by friends, lovers, and models many times: at the same time seductive and penetrating, mocking and bewildering. No one could remain indifferent to his presence’ (Giacometti, quoted in C. Grenier, op. cit., pp. 9-10).

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