Two exhibitions celebrating the centenary of Giacometti's birth examine the fruitful relationships he shared with artists to which he was bonded by blood or everything but

While the Fondazione Mazzotta concentrates on how mountainous terrain shaped the family psyche, his associations with Balthus and Cartier-Bresson are made clear in the European Academy's "Friendship: the only land"


The name Giacometti instantly brings to mind the Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, but as the centenary of his birth approaches, two exhibitions also celebrate the artists who surrounded him: his closest friends and members of his own family.

The Giacometti family comprised five artists in the space of two generations, one of whom is still alive. Giovanni Giacometti was the first, a painter and close friend of Ferdinand Hodler. His sons were the famous Alberto (1901-66), Diego (1902-1985), a sculptor and furniture designer (who designed the furniture in the Musée Picasso in Paris), as well as Alberto’s favourite model, and Bruno (b.1907), an architect who designed the Swiss pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Giovanni’s younger cousin Augusto (1877-1947) was a friend of Max Ernst, mixed with Dadaists at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, and remained an abstract artist all his life.

The exhibition “The Giacometti family: the valley, the world”, at the Fondazione Mazzotta in Milan until 14 May (then at the Städtische Kunsthalle in Manheim from 6 June to 17 September) contains 160 works of art by the five family members. Opening with a painting by Giovanni that was discovered in the attic of a hotel in Engadine, the show includes many works that are being shown for the first time, such as a watercolour of the Lago del Maloja painted by Alberto at the age of fourteen.

The Giacometti family was born and bred in Val Bregaglia, between Upper Lombardy and the Engadine. Attracted to the centres of the burgeoning Avant-garde, they travelled the length and breadth of Europe, but always bore the image of the rugged mountains in their minds. According to curator Pietro Bellasi, “the Val Bregaglia remained the centre of the world for them all, with its granite mountains. Both hard and fragile, the mountains are worn away by corrosion, like Alberto’s figures, a metaphor for death, a place where entropy reigns.”

On a more positive note, “Friendship: the only land”, at the European Academy in London until 28 May, celebrates forty years of friendship between Alberto and Diego Giacometti, Balthus, who sketched Giacometti, Henri Cartier-Bresson, who photographed him from 1946 onwards, and the art historian Jean Leymarie, who played an active role in their lives. Fifty-five drawings, sculptures, photographs and texts include previously unseen sculptures by Diego, and texts by Jean Leymarie, which have been translated for the first time.

Leymarie was a director of the Museum of Modern art in Paris, the École du Louvre and the Académie de France in Rome, where he succeeded Balthus. He organised exhibitions on Picasso, Matisse and Braque, as well as on Giacometti and Balthus. “Friendship” concludes with a selection of Magnum photographer Martine Franck’s portraits of Diego Giacometti, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Balthus.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Friends and family'