20th Century and Contemporary, Sculpture

The One-Sided Love Affair in Giacometti’s Studio

Nobody expects an artist’s studio to be tidy. In popular imagination, the artist works in a Paris garret or a New York City loft, surrounded by scattered paintbrushes and stacked canvases. Twentieth-century sculptor Alberto Giacometti, however, took the disorganized-artist stereotype to new extremes. After visiting his studio, Simone de Beauvoir wrote of him, “I must say he seems to like dirt: to have a bath is a problem for him. Yesterday I saw his house, and it is dreadful.” She was not exaggerating in the least, according to Michael Peppiatt in his book, In Giacometti’s Studio. The studio in Paris was a tiny “slum-like hovel” full of dirt and plaster dust. De Beauvoir and Peppiatt also describe another important part of the sculptor’s life—the young girl who loved him so much she actually attempted to keep him clean.

Annette Arm, Giacometti’s young admirer, would eventually marry the sculptor. Her desire “to escape the confines of her bourgeois Swiss background” gave her the persistence she needed to convince a sworn bachelor to try domesticity. Her romantic inclinations kept her in the relationship much longer than many women might have lasted. She knew that her husband had never believed in relationships, and his brother openly distrusted her, but she still tried to keep their household (an apartment slightly more attractive than the adjoining studio) running. Peppiatt agrees with de Beauvoir’s judgment of the artist’s attitude, saying that Giacometti “took pleasure in living dirt poor, rock bottom: it seemed more real.” Having a wife to wash his “plaster-caked clothes,” brush his jackets, and darn his socks would not have mattered to him. However, the reassurance of a young woman would have, especially since he had recently been rejected by a vivacious, strong-willed woman he had loved for three years.

Giacometti and Annette’s relationship seemed more like that between a father and a daughter than anything else, especially with a disparity in their ages that meant they could have been thus related. She was young and pretty, and not only did she have to put up with the poverty and the mess, but she knew her husband visited brothels. He also took a mistress and began spending lavishly on her, while still refusing to ease Annette’s living situation or give her very much money, even though he was now famous. While the marriage lasted, however, Annette was one of her husband’s favorite models. He created dozens of sculptures based on his wife. She posed for him for days, giving him a “great adventure,” or the experience of seeing “something unknown…every day in the same face.”

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