In 1964, while on a short trip to Paris, the American writer and art-lover James Lord is asked by his friend, the world-renowned artist Alberto Giacometti, to sit for a portrait. The process, Giacometti assures Lord, will take only a few days. Flattered and intrigued, Lord agrees.
So begins not only the story of a touching and offbeat friendship, but, seen through the eyes of Lord, a uniquely revealing insight into the beauty, frustration, profundity and, at times, downright chaos of the artistic process. FINAL PORTRAIT is a bewitching portrait of a genius, and of a friendship between two men who are utterly different, yet increasingly bonded through a single, ever-evolving act of creativity. It is a film which shines a light on the artistic process itself, by turns exhilarating, exasperating and bewildering, questioning whether the gift of a great artist is a blessing or a curse.
ABOUT ALBERTO GIACOMETTI
ALBERTO GIACOMETTI sculptor, painter, draughtsman and printmaker, was born near the Italian border of Switzerland in 1901. Giacometti’s father, Giovanni, was a well-known post-impressionist painter who instilled an interest of art in Alberto and his three siblings from a young age. After graduating from the Geneva School of Fine Arts, Giacometti moved to Paris in 1922 to study under Antoine Bourdelle at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. Here he specialised in surrealism, and rose to success quickly, exhibiting for the first time in 1925. Around this time, it is noted that he began to find the task of copying received reality impossible which became a key theme in his works of art.
In 1927, Giacometti moved into a studio at 46 rue Hippolyte-Maindron, which was to become his permanent home. His brother Diego joined him there and became his right-hand man. Following his first solo exhibition in 1932, Giacometti began distancing himself from the surrealist movement. His subsequent works from 1936–1940 were primarily sculptures of the human head and sitter’s gaze. These pieces were characterised by having a singular, isolated subject, and being based on models who Giacometti knew personally, such as Diego, friend and artist Isabelle Rawsthorne (née Delber) and his sister, Ottilia. It is said that his sculptures were paper thin because he continually carved away at them trying to make them exactly as he envisioned, a goal he often found to be unachievable.
During World War II, Giacometti left Paris and moved to Geneva where he met his wife Annette Arm in 1943. Upon his return to Paris in 1945, Giacometti began to sculpt his subjective view of the world producing his renowned elongated sculpted figures in 1946 and 1947. Giacometti achieved an international profile between 1948 and 1956. He held exhibitions in London, Paris, Zurich and Basel, he was asked to commission a large public work for the city of New York (which he declined), and he developed his ‘dark heads’ series, which became his quintessential contribution to 20th Century art and the so-called ‘generic’ man concept. In 1956, Giacometti went through an artistic crisis, triggered by his sessions with Isaku Yanihara, a Japanese philosopher who modelled for him. This period lasted for two years until Giacometti met Yvonne Poiraudeau, the prostitute known as Caroline. This marks the start of the final era of Giacometti’s legacy, referred to as the ‘last portraits’.
From 1958 until 1960 Giacometti painted nearly 30 portraits of Caroline. It was in 1964 that the American writer and art dealer James Lord sat for a portrait with Giacometti. The following year, Giacometti made his last sculpture of Diego. His final work was a 150-piece lithograph of all the places that he had lived during in his life.
Alberto Giacometti died in 1966 leaving behind countless half completed paintings and a room described by one reporter as a “repository of repeated failure”.
ABOUT JAMES LORD
JAMES LORD was an American author made famous by his biographies of both Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti. Born in 1922 to an upper class family, Lord had a difficult upbringing. Despite his articulate writing, his ambitious were often mocked by his classmates and he was expelled from one boarding school. He came out as a homosexual to his father whose response was to send him to a psychiatrist. In 1942, Lord enlisted in the US army and served in the Intelligence Unit before being stationed in Paris after D-day, where a bold phone call led Lord to meet Picasso and his then mistress, Dora Maar.
This was the beginning of a long-time acquaintance between Lord, Picasso and Maar. When Lord returned home following the war, he started at Wesleyn University, but by 1947 he had returned to Paris without a degree. In Europe, Lord resumed his contact with Picasso and spent his time travelling, dealing art and socialising. Lord first met Giacometti in 1952 in Paris’s Deux Magots café. A decade later, Giacometti asked him to sit for a portrait. Lord and Giacometti met for over 18 sittings to both create the portrait, and set the stage for Lord’s memoir, ‘A Giacometti Portrait’, which he published in 1965. In 1966, Giacometti’s death inspired Lord to write a full-biography of the artist, and in 1986, nearly 20 years after Giacometti’s death, Lord published a lengthy biography praising the complicated artist.
Lord died in Paris in 2009.