Alberto Giacometti was born in Switzerland to an artistic family in 1901. His father was post-Impressionist painter Giovanni Giacometti; his father’s second cousin was Symbolist painter Augusto Giacometti; and his godfather Fauvist Cuno Amiet. In addition to his three younger siblings, two of Alberto’s cousins were raised in his family home after they became orphaned. His brothers Diego and Bruno also worked as artists.
Giacometti was famously extremely self-critical, which motivated his prolific and wide-ranging career: “The more you fail, the more you succeed.” The 100 Swiss franc note features a portrait of Giacometti on one side, and a reproduction of his 1961 sculpture, L’Homme Qui Marche, on the other.
Giacometti began working in various media at a young age. He sent pencil drawings to his godfather beginning in 1911, and began oil painting in his father’s studio in 1913. By 1914 he began modeling the heads of his brothers in plasticine. He moved to Paris at age 21 to study at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, under Antoine Bourdelle, who had worked and taught with Auguste Rodin.
From the late 1920s until 1935, Giacometti’s work reflected the ideals of the Surrealists and appeared in exhibitions alongside the work of Joan Miró, Hans Arp and Salvador Dalì. He quickly became a leading Surrealist sculptor.
Until his death in 1966, Giacometti occupied the small, shabby Paris studio he bought in 1926, despite the commercial, critical, and financial success he experienced during much of his life. His American biographer James Lord referred to the studio as a “dump” and a tree branch famously grew through one of its walls.
In the last weeks of his life, Giacometti vacillated between losing his will to live or work after hearing an undesirable prognosis, and renewed hope and a zealous undertaking of working from his hospital room. He died of heart complications from years of suffering from bronchitis and chain-smoking. His funeral in his hometown of Borgonovo was attended by family, residents of nearby towns, members of Swiss authorities and the French government, and countless museum directors, art dealers and artists from around the world.