Giacometti at the National Portrait Gallery

This is an excellent show. I prefer Giacometti’s portraits to the sculptures and this exhibition is a revelation in terms of showing the progression which Giacometti made from his earlier work, which was influenced by his more traditional artist father, to the mature work in his typical dry, grey style. It is not a “blockbuster” type of show; more an intelligent focus on one key aspect of a very important artist.

Giacometti’s intellectual struggle with the appropriate representation of the human spirit is everywhere apparent. He is wrestling with something which is difficult to communicate. His words sometimes help; but as so often one gets the best chance of divining what an artist is seeking to achieve by close study of the marks he puts on the paper/canvas. The film showing him working is fascinating in this regard, although one might have hoped for a few more seats to watch from (as at the National Gallery for example). The way he builds an image, following intense scrutiny, is captivating and puts one in mind of the other serious modern portraitists, Freud and Auerbach. All of them struggle to achieve something which is not sui generis with a photograph.

I recommend this show very highly to anyone with a serious interest in modern art. The work is not easy to assimilate and can appear dry and repetitive, but it is the work of a master.

My only disappointment was not seeing Peter Watson’s portrait. I will have to air this grievance with the curator (Paul Moorhouse). In fact, he has surely done a splendid job.