Augusto Giacometti

(1877 – 1947)
Plant Study, 1896
Plant Study, 1896
Signed lower right
Image: 42.9 x 15 m, Paper: 42.9 x 32.4 cm

A cousin of the painter Giovanni Giacometti and of Giovanni’s son, the sculptor Alberto, Augusto Giacometti created a body of work in painting, watercolor, and pastel that included some remarkably early experiments in pure color abstraction. The present work is an example of Giacometti’s exquisite plant studies in wet media. These date from the mid-to-late 1890s, and are among the artist’s earliest surviving works. The present sheet dates specifically from Giacometti’s student work in Zürich at the school of Arts and Crafts (1894-97), where he earned a degree to teach drawing.

The notation on this work from the Archive of the Swiss Institute of Art includes the following extract: “Undoubtedely it [the watercolor] belongs to the period of 1896-97, when Giacometti produced a large number of such studies-in graphite, ink and/or watercolor…”

Hans Hartmann has described these early floral studies in watercolor as anticipating the Giacometti’s later development as a pioneer in abstract painting: “The object is formed with stupendous elegance through an expressive outline in pencil or ink, and is placed in its format [on the sheet] with a sure decorative instinct, and with the nuanced shading of a fresh watercolor technique” (Hans Hartmann, Augusto Giacometti, ein Leben für die Farbe, Pionier der abstraketn Malerei, Chur, 1981, S. 12).

Inv.Nr. 1343

Stampa, Bergell 1877 – 1947 Zürich
Red Roses, 1933
Monogrammed lower right, verso signed, titled and dated Oil on canvas 72 x 86 cm


From an international private Collection
Private Collection, Switzerland until 2009
Sale, Sotheby’s Zürich, 7 December 2009, Lot 90
Private Collection, Switzerland


Michael Altman Fine Art Gallery, New York, In Pursuit of Timeless Quality, 2016.


A. M. Zendralli, Augusto Giacometti, Leipzig 1936, listed on p. 147 (no illustration) H. Hartmann, Augusto Giacometti, Pionier der abstrakten Malerei, Ein Leben für die Farbe, Chur 1981, S. 246, Nr. 1958.

Augusto Giacometti (1877 –1947) was a Swiss painter from Stampa, Graubünden and the cousin of Giovanni Giacometti, the father of the renowned 20th century artist – Alberto Giacometti. He is regarded as an outstanding artist in the wake of the Art Nouveau and Symbolism, an innovator of glass painting and exponent of monumental wall paintings. Giovanni’s parents embraced their son’s interest to pursue a career in the arts, however Augusto did not have the same support from his parents who actively tried to prevent him from developing his interests.

Nonetheless, from 1894 to 1897 he lived in Z̈urich, where he received a diploma as a teacher of drawing at the School of Arts and Crafts. In the summer of 1897 he went to Paris and studied under Eugène Grasset at the School of Decorative Arts. His early works show a distinct link to the floral graphic decoration by William Morris. Augusto took motifs and used them in artisan work, designing mosaics, glass, clocks and posters. Though his style developed throughout his career and during his extensive travels, floral motifs transcended most of his creative production. In a process of gradual liberation from ornamental art, he used a technique of applying different colours with a spatula to flattened areas in order to produce a variety of effects, including the ‘carpet’ and ‘separate tessera mosaic’ effect. This marked a distinct change from his graphic, outlined works that preceded these paintings.

When the First World War broke out, Augusto was forced to return to Stampa but continued his travels around Europe soon after, seeking work in Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Holland. A trip to London in 1928 brought him into contact with William Turner, whom he considered to be the founder of Impressionism. He travelled to Tunisia and Algeria and received numerous public awards in his homeland upon his return.

The canvas shown here titled Red Roses (1933) was produced while the artist was back in Switzerland. As the title suggests it depicts a large vase of red roses mingled with pink, blue and white flowers while the background seems to be composed of a flowing fabric backdrop. Though this painting is certainly realistic, the medium is not disguised, instead the oil paint is employed in a almost pastell manner that emphasizes its presence. The subject appears to flicker before the viewer – perhaps suggesting the play of light in the room.

In this painting there is this a wonderful vibrancy and vivacity so characteristic of Augusto’s works.

This is further evident in his other floral scenes and landscape rendered around this time where his scenes appear to blur in and out of focus because of the rough manner in which they are created. Many of Augusto’s paintings from around 1930 render floral bouquets in vases in a similar style. Moreover, he produced several canvases specifically on the same theme, roses, but the arrangements differ.

Augusto Giacometti was among the first artists of the 20th Century that gave painting almost complete autonomy, thus aligning himself with the great colourists.

On his gravestone reads: ‘Master of Colour’ and one can certainly see how colour played such a vital role in his artistic expression, arguably more so than any subject matter. Isolating sections of this composition for visual analysis, one is offered an insight into Augusto’s artistic methods. As the flowers dissolve and disintegrate into their surroundings, dashes of colour create a magnificently abstract display on the canvas. Augusto Giacometti executed his first entirely abstract colour studies before 1900 and these optical investigations became the cornerstones for his entire oeuvre: drawing from nature he reduced all elements to their basic palettes by recording colour combinations and swatches that arose from particular seasons, landscapes or subject matters. For Augusto, capturing reality was not merely about the external appearance of things, but their essence too. This is arguably what he shared with his cousin Giovanni Giacometti. It was ‘not one’s own thoughts based on mere human rationality, but seeing, as an assimilation of nature’s greatness, the sensation of and being fulfilled by what one sees – that is what makes an artist’ (U. Kuster, Alberto Giacometti: Space, Figure, Time, Germany, 2008, p.40.)

Inv.Nr. 1226