Giovanni Giacometti(1868 - 1933)
Ambroise Vollard, Paris
Estate of the artist; Galerie Stadelhofen, Zürich, 1963; PB Schweiz; Sale, Koller Auktionen AG, 10 June, 1998, lot 3144
The painter and printmaker Giovanni Giacometti was one of Switzerland’s leading modernist artists at the turn of the century, though his present-day reputation has been eclipsed by that of his son, the sculptor Alberto (1901-1965). Giovanni was born to an innkeeper in the village of Stampa in the Bregaglia (Bergell) Valley, a region of magnificent mountains, lakes and villages in southeastern Switzerland, at the Italian border. He went to art school in Münich, where he met Cuno Amiet (1868-1961), who also would become an influential early modernist painter in Switzerland. The two friends continued their studies together for three years at the Académie Julien in Paris and returned to the Bregaglia Valley each summer to make studies of local subjects. The years following Giacometti’s departure from Paris (1891-1894) were difficult and full of doubt. Few works survive from this period, which included a trip to Italy in 1893. Interestingly, Giacometti’s correspondence from Italy increasingly turns from his half-hearted regard for Italy’s picturesque subjects the more compelling material of his native landscape. “More and more I am convinced,” he writes from Rome to Amiet on May 25, 1893, “that after all …. there is also in the Bregaglia Vally enough material to work with for the rest of one’s life” (Viola Radlach, editor, Cuno Amiet/Giovanni Giacmetti, Briefweschsel, Zürich, 2000, p. 131).
Giacometti did not often date his works, and his watercolors are particularly challenging to date . The present sheet, a study of the Sciora peaks in the Bregaglia Valley (attached photo), may well date from the mid- 1890s to early 1900s. It was during this period that Giacometti decided to abandon academic painting, and gained enormous confidence– partly due to the encouragement of the painter Giovanni Segantini (1858-1899), whom Giacometti visited in Maloggia, in the Bregaglia Valley — as an artist committed to interpreting his native region, with a focus on color and light. The soft palette of the watercolor recalls that of the French Neo-Impressionists and Nabis of the 1890s, which Giacometti knew and admired not only from his time in Paris, but through Amiet’s continued interactions with the French avant-garde. Further, in the late 1890s and early 1900s, Giacometti painted a number compositions in oil, including some very large, ambitious paintings, which probably made use of open-air studies of mountain peaks such as the present work (see attached examples: Panorama of Muottas Muragl (detail), 1898, oil on canvas, 105 x 150 cm, private collection; Mountains of the Bregaglia Valley, 1901, oil on canvas, 164.5 x 104.5 cm, Bündner Kunstmuseum, Chur; and particularly Winter (Bergaglia Valley), ca. 1900-01, oil on canvas, 35 x 50.3 cm, Bündner Kunstmuseum, Chur).