In 1922, Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti (1901-66) moved to Paris to study under the French sculptor Emile-Antoine Bourdelle at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. It was here that he met Flora Mayo, an American artist with whom he had a relationship in the mid-to-late 1920s. The human figure and head were central to Giacometti's work throughout his life; from his first drawings, paintings and sculptures, he held a keen interest in portraiture. Often he sculpted those he was close to, such as his brother Diego, his sister Ottilia and his wife Annette. The sculpture 'Tête de femme (Flora Mayo)' (c. 1927) is one of a number of flattened, frontal compositions Giacometti made in the mid-1920s that included portraits of his parents. Modelled in plaster, the subjects' facial features are, in each case, etched directly into the flat surface of the head.
Exhibited alongside the sculpture is the drawing 'Corner of the Studio with 'Self-Portrait' from 1925 in Plaster' (c. 1927). A plaster self-portrait, a collection of books and an alarm clock are shown within the artist's studio at 46 Rue Hippolyte-Maindron in Montparnasse, where Giacometti worked from 1927 until his death in 1966.
'Tête de femme (Flora Mayo)' was cast posthumously from the 1926 plaster in c.1990 by Susse Fondeur, one of the oldest foundries in France. The patina differs starkly from the plaster version, which bears traces of coloured paint applied to the surface to emphasise the lips and eyes. This cast was once owned by the German artist Georg Baselitz (b. 1938) whose practice, like Giacometti's, is concerned with the human figure.
Giacometti's drawings from the time of this sculpture are mostly studio still lives, studies of the human body, or Egyptian and Sumerian sculptures that he would have seen at the Louvre. From the 1940s onwards, his drawings are characterised by a limited use of colours and repetition of rapidly applied lines reworked to form the image of the portrayed subject. 'Tête de femme' has a clear relationship to drawing, bringing two and three-dimensional figuration together simultaneously, with the direct and spontaneous features symptomatic of Giacometti's portraiture.
Within the Institute's programme, Alberto Giacometti: 'Tête de femme (Flora Mayo)' (c. 1927) resonates with themes of replication in the concurrent The Age of Innocence: Replicating the Ideal Portrait in the New Sculpture Movement in the Sculpture Study Galleries, as well as the relationship between drawing and sculpture permeating the display of Robert Filliou: The Institute of Endless Possibilities in Galleries 1, 2 and 3. Filliou's practice - and life - shares much with the spirit of Surrealism that Giacometti's work helped to define.