Lynn Barber

‘My attachment to Giacometti grew into the bedrock of my existence’

Michael Peppiatt has had a lifelong obsession with the Swiss sculptor – and the result is this wonderful biography

Alberto Giacometti in his Paris studio in 1950. [Archivio Cameraphoto/Getty]

Michael Peppiatt is an octogenarian English art historian, based in London and Paris, who has met many of the artists he writes about. But, sadly, he never met Alberto Giacometti. He was working as a translator when, in 1966, he applied for a junior editor’s job at Réalités magazine in Paris and, much to his surprise, got it. He went to say goodbye to his friend Francis Bacon,who offered to give him an introduction to Giacometti. Bacon wrote it in felt-tip on a torn-out page of Paris Match and told Peppiatt to take it round to Giacometti’s studio, which he did. But then he stood irresolute at the door, lacking the courage to knock.

His Swiss exile had an odd effect on his work: his sculptures got smaller and smaller

He went again the next day, and the next, ‘but the same paralysing shyness and shame at trying to impose myself on a world-renowned artist overcame me’, and each time he slunk away. And then his colleagues at Réalités laughed and said didn’t he know that Giacometti was dead? He died a few days ago. Peppiatt could have knocked at the studio door as much as he liked but Giacometti would never have answered.

For Peppiatt, this was the start of a lifetime obsession. He collected all the printed material he could find on Giacometti: old catalogues and articles, and especially photographs of his studio – the studio he had just missed entering. It was a terrible hovel in rue Hippolyte-Maindron, with no heating or running water, a roof that leaked and a beaten-earth floor. He also gradually got to know people who had known Giacometti: his brother Diego, his widow Annette, his New York dealer Pierre Matisse (son of Henri), his Paris dealer Aimé Maeght, painters such as Balthus and André Masson, and photographers such as Brassaï and Henri Cartier-Bresson, who had often photographed Giacometti in his studio.

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