An export bar has been placed on a £2.9 million chandelier by the Swiss/French artist Alberto Giacometti. This will allow time for a UK institution to acquire the work. It was recently offered at Christie’s 20th/21st Century London Evening sale on February 28 and sold for £2.4m (£2.9m including fees). The piece was commissioned in 1947 directly from Giacometti by Peter Watson, a significant figure in the cultural life of mid-century Britain. Watson’s patronage of the arts as publisher of the influential Horizon magazine was widespread. He helped shape modern British painting, sculpture, and literature in the post war years. When Horizon closed the London office, it was sold to an antiques shop owned by Elizabeth Denton in Marylebone but without attribution or provenance and was bought by British Modern artist John Craxton (1922-2009).
The unique chandelier was designed shortly after the Second World War and is valued at £2,922,000 plus VAT. It is fashioned from bronze and has a multi-layered armature with sharply pointed branches radiating from a central stem. Each socket is decorated with organic detailing, and hanging from the base of the main stem is a punctuated sphere.
The bronze is particularly valuable given Giacometti is widely regarded as one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century, and it was commissioned specifically for the offices of Horizon magazine. As a result, the chandelier is of particular interest in the study of mid-century European avant-garde art.
Arts & Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said: Giacometti’s masterful exploration of space and use of bronze in this extraordinary chandelier provided a centrepiece for cultural discussion in post-war London as it hung in the offices of the avant-garde magazine, Horizon.
It is a prime example of sculptors blurring the boundaries between function and art in the decorative arts. The minister’s decision follows the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA).
Andrew Hochhauser KC, Chair RCEWA said: Giacometti’s bronze chandelier was commissioned in about 1947 by Peter Watson, a significant figure in cultural life in the mid-20th century, a great patron of the arts in Britain and the co-founder of the literary and cultural magazine, Horizon, for its new offices in Bedford Square. It is an exceptional realisation of Giacometti’s work in the decorative arts and is the only known UK decorative art commission by the leading 20th-century sculptor. It offers outstanding opportunities for studying this neglected area of Giacometti’s output and meeting European avant-garde art and decorative arts in the mid-twentieth century. I sincerely hope it can find a home in this country where it can be studied and enjoyed.
The Committee made its recommendation on the basis that the chandelier met the first, second and third Waverley criteria for its outstanding connection with our history and national life, its outstanding aesthetic importance and its outstanding significance to the study of Giacometti’s work in the decorative arts and the meeting of European avant-garde art and decorative arts in the mid-20th century.
The decision on the export licence application for the chandelier will be deferred for a period ending on 12 November 2023. At the end of the first deferral period, owners will have a consideration period of 15 Business Days to consider any offer(s) to purchase the chandelier at the recommended price of £2,922,000 (plus VAT of £104,000 which an eligible institution can reclaim). The second deferral period will commence following the signing of an Option Agreement and will last for four months.
Details of the chandelier are as follows: Chandelier for Peter Watson was commissioned from Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) by Peter Watson (1908-1956) between 1946-47 and was probably cast with assistance from Diego Giacometti (1902-1985) c.1947-1949. The chandelier is made from bronze with a golden-brown patina and measures 134cm in height and 153.5cm in diameter. It has a multi-layered armature with sharply pointed branches radiating out from a central stem. Each socket is decorated with organic detailing, and hanging from the base of the main stem is a punctuated sphere. The chandelier is unique and is in excellent condition.
Provenance: Peter Watson, Paris & London, by whom commissioned directly from the artist for the Horizon magazine office, London. (Probably) Cyril Connolly, London. Elizabeth Denton, London, circa 1965. John Craxton, R.A., London, by whom acquired from the above in the late 1960s and thence by descent.
The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by Arts Council England (ACE), which advises the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specified criteria.
Arts Council England is the national development agency for creativity and culture. Its strategic vision in Let’s Create is that, by 2030, England should be a country in which the imagination of everyone is valued and given a chance to flourish. Everyone has access to a remarkable range of high-quality cultural experiences. ACE invests public money from the government and the National Lottery to support the sector and deliver the vision. Following the Covid-19 crisis, ACE developed a £160 million Emergency Response Package for organisations and individuals needing support, with nearly 90 per cent coming from the National Lottery. It is also one of the bodies administering the government’s unprecedented Culture Recovery Fund.
Alberto Giacometti, a Swiss sculptor and painter, is indeed considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Born on 10 October 1901 in Borgonovo, Switzerland, Giacometti’s artistic journey began at a young age. His father, Giovanni Giacometti, was a well-known Post-Impressionist painter, and his family’s artistic background undoubtedly influenced his creative development.
Giacometti moved to Paris in 1922 to study at the École des Beaux-Arts and immerse himself in the vibrant artistic scene of the city. He soon became associated with prominent artists and thinkers, including Pablo Picasso and Jean-Paul Sartre. However, it was his friendship with Surrealist artists, particularly André Breton, that had a profound impact on his early work.
During the 1930s, Giacometti’s art underwent a significant transformation. He gradually distanced himself from the Surrealist movement and began to develop his unique style. His sculptures evolved from the more surreal and dreamlike creations to the elongated, emaciated human figures for which he became renowned.
Giacometti’s distinct sculpting technique involved working with a delicate touch, often using his fingers to mould and shape the clay or plaster. The resulting sculptures exuded a sense of vulnerability, isolation, and existential angst. His figures appeared as if they were perpetually suspended in time and space, encapsulating the essence of the human condition.
The theme of existentialism became a central aspect of Giacometti’s work. He sought to convey the isolation and alienation experienced by individuals in the modern world, reflecting his existential struggles. The post-World War II period was particularly influential for Giacometti, as he created his iconic walking man series, which has become emblematic of his oeuvre.
Throughout his career, Giacometti also explored the theme of portraiture, capturing the essence of his subjects with extraordinary sensitivity and precision. His portraits often conveyed a profound psychological depth, offering a penetrating glimpse into the inner thoughts and emotions of the sitter.
Giacometti’s work was internationally recognised and exhibited extensively in major galleries and museums worldwide. 1962 he was awarded the Grand Prize for Sculpture at the Venice Biennale. Despite his fame, Giacometti remained deeply committed to his artistic vision, continuously revisiting and reworking his sculptures to achieve perfection.
Alberto Giacometti’s legacy endures as an unparalleled sculptor and a pivotal figure in the development of modern art. His masterful ability to capture the essence of the human condition and his unique sculpting techniques have left an indelible mark on the art world. His sculptures continue to captivate and resonate with viewers, offering profound insights into the complexities of human existence.