13. The last model
Eli Lotar, a film-maker and photographer, was Giacometti’s last male model. Lotar, a had been part of the Surrealist avant-garde in the 1930s. In the postwar years, he was dogged by failure and became destitute; he lived off the generosity of old friends like Giacometti, who gave him money in exchange for running small errands and posing.
Giorgio Soavi has described these sessions, where Lotar had to remain absolutely still, as follows: “[Giacometti’s] eye was filled with strange gleams, his body vibrated in every limb, all he followed were the impulses which governed his hands, his arms, and his legs: he was in ecstasy. As I looked closely at the two faces, I understood the secret which enabled Lotar not to breathe: if Eli was the ideal model for that sculpture, it was because he was dead. He didn’t breathe, he didn’t think, he remained focused on the highest point. An electric current connected the artist to the model, wrapping them in a real complicity. They played together, without any ball, racket, or net.” In these sculptures, which evoke the reliquary and Egyptian statuary, the man who became a tramp was given the dignity of a priest. Jean Genet noted that, for Giacometti, women were goddesses and men priests “belonging to a very senior clergy”, all of them depending “invariably on the same haughty and gloomy family. Familiar and very close. Inaccessible.”