Two bas-relief on consoles

Fondation Giacometti -  Two bas-relief on consoles

Two bas-relief on consoles: an important order for Argentina

In 1938, Jean-Michel Frank received an important order from the wealthy Argentinians, Jorge and Matilda Born.
In 1935, during one of their numerous stays in Paris, they had made the acquaintance of Jean-Michel Frank and visited his new shop on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. The couple, who had an imposing villa built in San Isidro, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, decided to entrust the famous Parisian decorator with its furnishings and interior design.

For that vast site, Jean-Michel Frank once more brought in the talent of Alberto Giacometti. The designer reused numerous decorative elements already created by Alberto Giacometti from the beginning of their collaboration in 1930: table lamps, lampshades, wall lights, vases… On this occasion, he commissioned new substantial pieces from the artist.

In that context, for the Born’s dining room, Alberto Giacometti imagined and created two consoles in stone that formed a pair, each crowned with an imposing bas-relief.

These monumental pieces, each weighing nearly a ton for a height close to three metres, are composed of three distinct elements – a console, a cross-piece support and the bas-relief.

Sculpted in one single block of light-coloured stone, each of the consoles takes on the same general structure: a thick base in a half-moon shape supporting three large curved feet that hold up a three-cusped top. However, each console remains unique, the feet adopting different curves. It is the same for the sinusoidal decoration sculpted on each central foot.
The tops of the two consoles are crowned with elements in an x shape, with a ribbed decoration, simulating the support of imposing bas-reliefs. These bas-reliefs, in rectangular shape, with convex sides, are decorated with slender women in motion, with a barely-veiled nakedness.
Similar in the front view of their faces, the two female figures however adopt different positions; one is frontal, the other in an accentuated contrapposto.

All around the bodies, the traces of quite visible tools contrast with the smooth aspect of the treatment of the surfaces and form a kind of halo around the figures.
Few bas-reliefs made directly in stone are known in Alberto Giacometti’s oeuvre. Most often, there are big medallions in terracotta or plaster, or more simply, editions in bronze.
Moreover, Alberto Giacometti seldom worked the stone, and only on one other occasion on a monumental scale for a 2.40 metres figure destined for the garden of the Noailles’ villa in Hyères.

This ambitious ensemble was destined to be set in the masonry-work of the walls of the Born’s dining room, on each side of a bay window, those elements ending up being completely integrated into the white wall of the room. In the initial conception of the project, the bas-reliefs were not positioned as they finally would be installed. Indeed, the figures of the bas-reliefs were set back to back looking as if they were walking away from each other. During the installation, for a reason that remains unknown, the bas-reliefs were inverted, while the consoles kept their positions as initially planned.

Photographs taken at the time in the studios and warehouses of the Frank and Chanaux firm, as the correspondence of Alberto Giacometti with his family, help us to retrace, in broad outlines, the genesis, creation and manufacture of that oeuvre right up to its installation in the vast house of the Born couple in Argentina.

by Thierry Pautot

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July 1938

Alberto Giacometti writes to his mother. In this letter, the artist evokes the pieces to adorn the future residence of the Born couple.

"(...), Daniel began the enlargment of the consoles and reliefs. One should be almost finished on Monday, I think it's okay.
(...) Now Frank asks that I also make plans for two large bronze chandeliers for the relief room and then probably the fireplaces in the living room. We'll do that in the fall if everything works then we'll probably have 100,000 francs, it's worth staying for another 8 days. "

Extracts of a letter by Alberto Giacometti to his mother, July 1938.

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JULY 1938

Alberto Giacometti writes to his mother
In this letter, the artist evokes the pieces destined to decorate the future residence of the Born couple.

“(…), Daniel started the enlargement of the consoles and the reliefs. One should be more or less finished by Monday, I think it’s going to go well. 
(…) Now Frank is asking me to also do projects for the two big bronze chandeliers for the room where the reliefs will be installed and then probably also chimneys for the drawing rooms. We will do that in the autumn if everything goes according to plans, then we will certainly have 100,000 francs, so it is worth staying another 8 days.” 

Extracts of a letter by Alberto Giacometti to his mother, July 1938.

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In October 1938, Giacometti’s foot was crushed by a car, an accident that left him severely handicapped.

Alberto Giacometti writes:

“I’ve arrived here from Zurich exhausted and the work on the stone reliefs ended up making me feel rather low. It is a work that is very tiring for my foot. 
(…) and as all things for America are nearly finished (still barely 8 days’ work) I have more leeway and can work more peacefully. Diego helped me a lot and it’s him who finished the consoles.”

Diego, the artist’s brother, was also his assistant.

Extracts of a letter by Alberto Giacometti to his family

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In the Frank and Chanaux studios, before departure for Argentina.

This photograph shows ensemble no2 completed. The bas-relief held in place here, gives an idea of the final presentation.

The console combined with the bas-relief is identical to that of the plaster maquette.

The pair of bas-reliefs on consoles as well as the ensemble of the furniture created for the Born villa left to reach Argentina by boat at some point in the year.

Completed bas-relief on console no2 in stone, in the Frank and Chanaux studios
Photograph: François Kollar

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Alberto Giacometti writes:

“The pieces for America are finished, as much as it was possible to finish them here, but I think I will have to go to Buenos Aires to adjust everything. It would be a shame after all the expenses and all the work not to go all the way. I shall in that case do the quickest possible return journey, staying there no more than 15 days in any case, which should be largely enough, even too much. I would like to go in the autumn, but we will see.”

Alberto Giacometti will never go to Argentina.

At the end of 1940, Jean-Michel Frank, then an expatriate in Argentina, supervised the end of the furnishing of the Born villa.

Extract of a letter from Alberto Giacometti to his family

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AFTER 1939?

The dining room of the Born couple in San Isidro.

The bas-reliefs and their console have taken their place in the dining room on each side of a bay window here masked by curtains.
The positioning of the consoles is in keeping with that initially planned on the maquette of the dining room. 
In contrast, the bas-reliefs have been inverted, perhaps so that the two figures can face each other. 

Dining room of Jorge and Matilde Born, San Isidro
Anonymous photographer

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Last meeting of the Born couple with Alberto Giacometti.

On the 26th January 1965, the Born couple, passing through Paris, pay a last visit to Alberto Giacometti in his studio in the rue Hippolyte-Maindron in the 14th district in Paris. It is the opportunity for the couple to present the artist with a series of photographs of the objects he had created for their villa.
Among those photographs, probably taken with that meeting in view, there are several images of the two bas-reliefs on the console. On the whole set of photographs Alberto Giacometti made his signature without a comment, confirming that he really was the author of those models, created some 25 years earlier

Alberto Giacometti
Bas-relief no2
Anonymous photographer

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