Scientist of the Day - Diego Giacometti
Diego Giacometti, a Swiss sculptor and designer, died July 15, 1985, at the age of 82. He was the younger brother (by 13 months) of the more famous sculptor Alberto Giacometti. Until Alberto died in 1966, Diego was very much in the shadow of his sibling. But the two were very close, inseparable really, and shared the same studio in Paris for decades. Diego was, in fact, Alberto's favorite model, and there are many paintings and bronze busts of Diego by Alberto that survive and are regularly sold at auction.
Diego is included in this series because he was an animalier – he liked to sculpt animals. We have done posts on several animaliers, including Antoine-Louis Barye, Pietro Tacca, and just two months ago, Edward Kemeys. But Diego's animals are not like those of anyone else. They are lean and spare, almost minimalist, and wiry, filled with latent energy, especially the wolves. I find them immensely appealing (especially the wolves). Some of his animals are free-standing sculptures, but Diego's primary activity, outside of helping Alberto, was furniture design, and he often incorporated animals into his pieces. We show you one of his consoles, a bronze table with a marble top, in which he included, on the crosspiece below, a stag and a seated fox, so it is titled: Cerf et Renard Console (fifth image, below). He made many consoles like this; the one we show here sold at Sotheby’s just last month for 2.3 million USD, in case you were thinking of starting your own collection.
I am not competent to write about modern sculpture in a professional manner, so I limit myself here to merely displaying the Diego Giacometti sculptures I especially like. His most familiar sculpture I do not show at all, a bronze ostrich formed around a real ostrich egg torso, because the first word that comes to mind when I look at it is “cute,” which is not the right response to a work of art. You can see one as the first image on Diego’s Wikipedia page.
Although we show here a powerful oil portrait of Diego by Alberto (second image), we do not include here any of Alberto’s busts of Diego, because it would mean leaving out an animal sculpture. But they must be seen, so I give you links to a bust in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and a quite different one, sold at auction at Sotheby’s in 2021 for over 3 million EURO. That means I can include below a wonderful photograph taken in 1966 that shows Diego in Alberto’s studio, posing next to a large plaster bust of Diego sculpted by Alberto (sixth image). A double portrait, if you will, of a most unusual nature.
William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor emeritus, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to firstname.lastname@example.org.