The Real Faces Behind Giacometti’s Iconic Sculptures


Alberto Giacometti used close companions as models for many of his sculptures and paintings. They were more than just aesthetic muses: each represented a large influence on his work and life. Giacometti required his models to sit for many hours over several weeks in order for him to complete their likeness to his satisfaction, and for this reason, his models had to be as compatible in personality as they were aesthetically.

Perhaps Alberto’s favorite model was his younger brother, studio assistant, and closest friend, Diego Giacometti (1902-1985), who was the subject of his first sculpture, Diego—produced between 1914-1915—and is said to have sat for him every day until Alberto’s death in 1966. In addition to working alongside his older brother, Diego was an established artist in his own right, sculpting bronze pieces in manner which evoked Alberto’s aesthetic, yet was distinctly his.

Above: Diego Giacometti and Bust of Diego, photographed by Herbert Matter


Also abundantly represented in Giacometti’s sculptures and paintings is his wife, Annette Giacometti (1923-1993), whom Alberto met in Geneva in 1943 and wed in 1949. Late in his career, he created a startling series of ten busts of Annette, one of which, Annette IV, graces the cover of Herbert Matter’s book.

Above: Annette Giacometti and her likeness, Annette IV, on the cover of Giacometti by Herbert Matter

Isabel Rawsthorne (1912-1992), a British artist, was not just a model for Giacometti, but also a continuing romantic liaison until his death. Rawsthorne met and began modeling for Giacometti in the first half of the 1930s, and was a prominent figure of the Paris art scene in the 1940s. Her image can also be seen on the canvases of Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, and Andre Derain.

Above: Isabel Rawsthorne


Paola Carola (b. 1929) became friends with both Alberto Giacometti and his wife Annette in 1958, and remained close to Annette following Alberto’s death. Unlike many of Giacometti’s other models, Carola is not an artist, but has published extensively about her time with prominent artists, among them Balthus, Cremonini, and Giacometti. In 2008, Carola published Monsieur Giacometti, Je Voudrais Vous Commander mon Buste, a memoir about her relationship with Alberto and Annette, which includes a vivid description of the artist’s often perplexing character. 

Above: Carola pictured with her Giacometti likeness


Isaku Yanaihara (1918-1989), the Japanese philosopher, was one of Giacometti’s later models, sitting for him several times between 1955-1961. Yanaihara met Giacometti through the artist’s close friend, philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, for whom Yanaihara was a translator. He was of particular intellectual interest to Giacometti: the two are said to have spent hours in the studio discussing the particulars of existentialism.

Above: Yainahara posing in Giacometti's studio

David Sylvester (1924-2001) began working with Giacometti after their meeting in 1947 in Paris. A British art critic, Sylvester was a major campaigner for Giacometti’s work during and after the artist’s lifetime, and—perhaps unusually for an artist and a critic—they enjoyed a friendly relationship together at the height of both of their careers.

Above: Sylvester, photograph by Matter, left, and his painted portrait by Giacometti


Eli Lotar (1905-1969) was a French photographer and cinematographer who, much like Giacometti, gained prominence in the early 1930s through his connection to the Surrealist movement. While Lotar’s career never achieved the level of success that Giacometti enjoyed, the two artists remained close for the remainder of their lives. Lotar began posing for his friend in the last few years of Giacometti’s life, making him Giacometti’s last male model.

Above: Lotar and Giacometti's Bust of Eli Lotar II, photographed by Herbert Matter


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