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