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A short description of Giacometti’s atelier
in Stampa

Positioning marks: on the floor between cigarette burn holes are the indentations (red “U”) to locate Alberto’s former easel position © TRANSFER

The Giacomettis’ experiences and memories of the Val Bregaglia in Switzerland are ever-present in their visual descriptions of the villages and landscape — in the  impressionistic portraits of the valley by Giovanni, in the paintings of Stampa’s rural houses and gardens by Augusto, or in some, through the window of the atelier, depicted features of the landscape by Alberto. Besides these artistic residues one can still recognize certain physical remnants of the artists’ life in the valley: the family houses in Maloja, Borgonovo and Stampa; the graves in the Borgonovo cemetery; and especially the atelier in Stampa, originially a wooden barn next to the family house. Refurbished by Giovanni, it later became Alberto’s abode during his annual visits from Paris. Between the irregular scattering of cigarette burns remain the precise positioniong marks used to fix the canvas to portray friends and family, while pointillistic color-fields on the wall evoke the search for the right hue.

The visit of the Giacometti’s atelier in Stampa is a unique opportunity to trace the footsteps of Giacometti and rediscover intact a space that witnessed one of the key artistic productions of the 20th century. (1)

On the furnishing and the artefacts in the studio

By David Wille

DUCUNT VOLENTEM FATA, NOLENTEM TRAHUNT (Destiny guides the willing, and drags the unwilling)

Giovanni Giacometti wrote these words by Seneca the Younger on the large front door. Above the door hangs a singular painting, depicting a man in a morion helmet, carrying a companion on his back, probably painted in the context of the competition for mural paintings for the Landesmuseum in 1896 (The Retreat from Marignano). The back of this painting bears an unfinished view of the Lägh da Cam mountain in Bregaglia. Impressed by the Italian Renaissance, Giovanni painted the just finished cabinet with Masolino’s Adam and Eve, and the Annunciation, and Expulsion from Eden by Masaccio. Above, directly on the wall boards, he wrote Vincent van Gogh’s acknowledgement of his vocation, which van Gogh mentioned in a letter to Emile Bernard. Soon after setting up the studio, Giovanni painted a pointillist fantasy woodland landscape directly on the wall. Next to the wood stove, the young Alberto burnt caricatures into the wallboards using a hot iron.

At the back of the studio stands the walnut table that Giovanni and Annetta received after the death of Giovanni Segantini. Above it hangs the lamp with green glass beads, repeatedly portrayed by both Giovanni and Alberto. Alberto left behind numerous brushes, purchased at Lucien Lefebvre-Foinet in Paris, as well as palettes with lavish remains of oil paint. In around 1950, Alberto painted two views of a female figure directly onto the planking, as well as a woman using the “cage” procedure. In 1962, these paintings were cut from the wall and, after Alberto’s death, were taken to Paris (today preserved at the Fondation Annette et Alberto Giacometti), and are replaced by a digital print. The parents’ bed, dated 1674, in which Alberto also slept, stands in the studio, and in the far corner hangs a life-size plaster muse, modelled by the Geneva sculptor Auguste de Niederhäusern for the monument to Paul Verlaine. Giovanni Giacometti received it as a gift in October 1904 from his fellow artist and wrote to Cuno Amiet: “It is the most beautiful sculptural work I have ever seen.” (2)

The atelier

By Beat Stutzer

When Giovanni Giacometti rented the house in Stampa with his family in the autumn of 1905, he also rented the adjoining stable and barn, built in 1795. In letters to his friend, the artist Cuno Amiet, he related his plans to turn the stable into a magnificent atelier. However, he soon gave up his collaboration with an architect and said: “I will leave the barn as it is, cut out a window and clad it inside with a double wooden wall. It will be a beautiful place, full of sun, and the whole thing will cost me a thousand francs. I’ll have to make a slanting skylight.”

The stable’s interior measures ca. 8 x 10 meters. I would have liked to distinguish a second room—smaller, more cozy, and furnished with wood panelling—from which I could have caught the beautiful evening light. The atelier would have had a skylight and a window facing north. Height of the atelier ca. 4 meters.” (…) “Now it seems the flat roof costs an enormous amount of money, and the architect advises me not to do it. The skylight, too, is more expensive than expected. To get away cheaper, the architects suggests using only half of the existing space and that with no skylights. I frown upon the idea of sacrificing my small chamber in the atelier that I imagined to be so convenient. If I had an intelligent worker at hand, I believe, I could make something better than with the architect’s help and much cheaper.” (3)

At the end of October 1906, Giovanni Giacometti was able to move into his studio and afterwards wrote to Amiet: although it is not a studio à la Makart or à la Lembach, it took time to paint the doors, to set up the benches, the shelves, and so on. The only thing still missing is a cupboard in a corner, and then it will be provisionally complete. However, it is a great joy to work there. I have space, light and heat. The stove is excellent. Inside it is cosy. I have left all the beams a natural colour; a warm pinkish lemon yellow, very pleasant. Since I moved in, I cannot bear to leave it.”

During his stays in Bregaglia, Alberto Giacometti always worked in the two studios his father had set up in Stampa and Maloja, which differed considerably in their spatial conditions and ambience from the one in Paris. The workspaces in Bregaglia were about twice as large as the Paris studio at 46 rue Hippolyte-Maindron, always tidy, bright and comfortable, equipped with tables and chairs designed by Milanese furniture designer Carlo Bugatti.

In 1986, Bruno and Odette Giacometti, with Silvio Berthoud, donated the atelier in Stampa with some furnishings to the Società Culturale di Bregaglia, owner of the Ciäsa Granda Museum in Stampa. With the opening of the exhibition Alberto Giacometti. A Casa, the atelier was opened to the public for the first time. For the occasion, the partition set up in August 1962 to create a small bedroom for Annette was removed, thereby restoring the atelier to its original state. (4)

(1)

Concheiro, Isabel, “Traces II, the Objects“, dans Expression. Architecture and the Arts, ed. ETHZ, Chair Prof. J. Ll. Mateo (Zürich: Park Books, 2012), 29

(2)

Wille, David, “Zur Einrichtung und zu den Artefakten im Atelier”, in Alberto Giacometti. A casa, ed. Società Culturale di Bregaglia (Stampa: Museo Ciäsa Granda, 2016), 71

(3)

Letter from Giovanni Giacometti to Cuno Amiet Stampa, 25 December, 1905

(4)

Stutzer, Beat “Das Atelier”, in Alberto Giacometti. A casa, ed. Società Culturale di Bregaglia  (Stampa: Museo Ciäsa Granda, 2016), 66

Posted
12.Dec.2016 964 views 18 shares
Author
Beat Stutzer & David Wille

Dr. Beat Stutzer (Altdorf, 1950) studied art history at the University of Basel. From 1982 to 2011 he was the director at the Bündner Kunstmuseum Chur. Since 1998, he is the curator of the Segantini Museum in St. Moritz. He was the president of the Gottfried Keller Foundation from 2004 to 2008.

David Wille is an art expert, responsible for the Atelier Giacometti in Stampa, Bregaglia.

 

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Edited by Transfer