Giacometti’s portraits, be they painted or sculpted, are the translation of the model as an implacable otherness, which can never be grasped in its entirety. These portraits, devoid of all emotion and expression, are the receptacle of what the spectator brings to them. What was involved for the artist was capturing and rendering the vibration of the life of his models and not their psychology. Under Giacometti’s brush, his mother’s cook, Rita, became a sacerdotal character relieved of any sociological context.
His favourite models were people who lived around him: his wife Annette, whom he married in 1949, and Diego, his brother and assistant, who acted as a medium for his most advanced research. Working from memory, he brought forth their image within an imaginary space. Working from models, he turned his back on classical perspective and reconstructed his models posing as he saw them – in their fragmented or deformed, but ever-changing, aspect. Their distinctive features dissolved and sometimes merged, or were reduced to essentials. Giacometti also painted occasional models, as long as they agreed to pose for hours in front of him: the English industrialist and collector Sir Robert Sainsbury, the sophisticated intellectual Paola Carola-Thorel, and the artist Pierre Josse. Every modelling session gave rise to a new sequence of perceptions, which the artist sought to build up with his brush. Caroline, a pretty woman with a complex personality who hung out with criminals and posed from 1960 onwards, was presented in three very different aspects: a remote goddess, a dangerous and totemic figure, and a sculptural beauty.