Alberto Giacometti spent the majority of the 1950s producing what have become many of his most iconic pieces, but early in the decade he experimented with a series of sculptures far different from the subjects so often associated with his work. While utilizing the attenuated forms he developed during and following World War II, this unusual 1951 cycle depicted not humans, but animals—specifically a dog, a cat, and a horse—with “Dog” [below] the most detailed of the trio.
Giacometti’s Dog, photographed by Herbert Matter, now on display in “Matter/Giacometti” at RARE.
Giacometti famously had his human models sit for hours in order to better capture details of their individual characters, but in creating“Dog,” he instead called upon only his memory. Giacometti spoke with his biographer, James Lord, about the project’s unusual development, a conversation Lord later recounted in his short piece, “Giacometti Gives Up Painting”: “For a long time I’d had in my mind the memory of a Chinese dog I’d seen somewhere. And then one day I was walking along the rue de Vanves in the rain, close to the walls of the buildings, with my head down, feeling a little sad, perhaps, and I felt like a dog just then. So I made that sculpture.”
In reflecting upon the final product, however, Giacometti did not feel the sculpture accurately portrayed a dog, not even his “Chinese dog of memory”: “But it’s not really a likeness at all. Only the muzzle is anything of a likeness. The muzzle, yes, but not the back legs at all. The back legs are utterly false.”
Excerpt from the typescript of James Lord’s “Giacometti Gives Up Painting”
He swiftly returned to human forms following this experiment—“[P]eople themselves are the only likenesses. I never get tired of looking at them.”—but Giacometti’s small detour to create “Dog” has become a large part of his legacy, and the piece remains one of his most beloved sculptures; it's even the subject of a 1990 poem by Robin Becker, “Giacometti’s Dog.”
Lord’s original typescript of “Giacometti Gives Up Painting” is currently on display at RARE, in addition to other archival matter related to his biographical work on Giacometti.