15 October 2015 – 10 January 2016,
National Portrait Gallery,

Admission charge
Sponsored by Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Supported by Pro Helvetia, The Henry Moore Foundation and the Giacometti Exhibition Supporters Group

The first ever exhibition solely to consist of portraits by the twentieth-century artist Alberto Giacometti opens at the National Portrait Gallery on Thursday 15 October. 

Giacometti: Pure Presence (15 October 2015-10 January 2016) comprises over 60 works, including paintings, sculptures and drawings, spanning the entire range of the Swiss artist’s career. Including very rare loans from private collections and seldom-seen portraits, the exhibition marks the fiftieth anniversary of Giacometti’s death.

Best known for his sculptures of elongated figures, Alberto Giacometti (1901-66) is widely known as a leading twentieth century sculptor working alongside Picasso, Miró and Ernst in Paris in the 1920s.

But the Gallery’s exhibition emphasises the portraits also produced by the sculptor during this time at his family home in Switzerland where he steered a lesser-known, parallel artistic course. Beyond that, and covering the period 1914 to 1966, the exhibition reveals Giacometti’s life-long preoccupation with portraiture and ’copying appearance.’  

Giacometti: Pure Presence focuses on the intensity of his relationships with frequent sitters such as members of his close family; Isabel Nichol (who later became Francis Bacon’s muse Isabel Rawsthorne); and the young woman Caroline, whom he met in 1960 and who sat for his portraits over the following five years.   

Tracing Giacometti’s engagement with representing a human presence, Giacometti: Pure Presence displays portraits of all his main models, including his wife Annette and his brother Diego, as well as such friends as the writers Louis Aragon and Jean Genet, and the philanthropist Lord Sainsbury. The exhibition also features a room of photographs documenting the artist’s life.

Highlights include his earliestportrait bust of his brother Diego created in 1914 when he was just thirteen years old and his last bronze busts from 1965. These are displayed alongside an astonishing range of paintings and drawings which show Giacometti’s development from post-impressionist influences via cubism to expressionist portraits of figures in highly charged spaces, reminiscent of the ‘caged’ compositions of Francis Bacon.

Major sculptures on show range from a serene head of Isabel inspired by Egyptian sculpture to portraits of Diego and Annette: gnawed, dissolving heads and figures that became Giacometti’s trademarks. Such sculptures are frequently pared down to very small forms evoking the experience of observing the sitter from a distance.

One of the artist’s most celebrated tall hieratic figures Woman of Venice VIII, stands at the centre of the exhibition, making a vital contact between Giacometti’s portraits and his famous sculptures evoking an archetypal human presence.

Giacometti: Pure Presence is the first major Giacometti exhibition to be held in the United Kingdom since those at the Tate in 1965 and at the Royal Academy and Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in 1996, and is the first to focus exclusively on Giacometti’s engagement with the human figure and the creation of images of an individual human presence based on particular models. The title of the exhibition derives from the existentialist writer Jean-Paul Sartre, who referred to Giacometti’s endeavour to give ‘sensible expression’ to ‘pure presence.’

The loans are drawn from museums and private collections worldwide including Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark; Tate; Collection Fondation Giacometti, Paris; Alberto Giacometti Foundation, Zurich; Kunsthaus Zürich; Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel; Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia; Kunstmuseum Winterthur; Staatsgalerie Stuttgart; V-A-C Foundation, Moscow; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Paul Moorhouse, Curator of Giacometti: Pure Presence, says:  ‘Giacometti is widely celebrated as one of the giants of modern art, but his almost continuous involvement with portraiture is less well known. In devoting individual rooms to his main models, the exhibition exposes the singular, obsessive and intense nature of Giacometti’s portraits. Repetition, variation, accretion and dissolution are revealed as vital elements in his extraordinary vision.’

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘It is fitting that the National Portrait Gallery is staging this major exhibition of portraits by one of the greatest twentieth century artists, in the fiftieth anniversary year of his death. Including paintings, drawings and sculpture, the exhibition casts a new light on Giacometti’s startlingly original representation of the human figure.’

Andrea Sullivan, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, EMEA, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, says: ‘Maintaining a vibrant arts sector is crucial to ensuring strong communities and economies. Our global and diverse programme of cultural support has been developed with this in mind. We have a long-standing relationship with the National Portrait Gallery having partnered on recent exhibitions including Irving Penn Portraits and Lucian Freud Portraits and are pleased to be supporting this beautiful retrospective of Giacometti’s work.’

Giacometti: Pure Presenceiscurated by Paul Moorhouse, the National Portrait Gallery’s Curator of Twentieth Century Portraits. His previous exhibitions at the Gallery include The Great War in Portraits (2014), The Queen: Art and Image (2012) Gerhard Richter Portraits (2009), and Pop Art Portraits (2007).

His displays at the Gallery include Andy Warhol: 10 Portraits of Jews of the 20th Century; Bridget Riley: from Life; Jim Dine Portraits: Derek Boshier: Imaginary Portraits; Patrick Heron: Studies for a Portrait of T. S. Eliot; John Gibbons: Portraits; Frank Auerbach: Four Portraits of Catherine Lampert; Anthony Caro: Portraits; Tony Bevan – Self Portraits, Light, Colour, Texture – Matthew Smith and Frank Dobson; Jack Smith – Abstract Portraits and Thomas Struth Family Portraits.  

Giacometti: Pure Presence is designed by the Stirling-prize winning architects Stanton Williams, whose passion for art and architecture continues to guide their design ethos. Stanton Williams previously designed the Gallery’s Gerhard Richter Portraits (2009) and Pop Art Portraits (2007) exhibitions.


Sponsored by Bank of America Merrill Lynch    

The Gallery will stage workshops for schools with language and hearing impaired students and for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder.  Two artists will work with the students both in the exhibition and the Gallery’s Learning Studio. The Gallery will engage the students with Giacometti’s practice through a series of tailored practical workshops. The hard-to-reach audiences who may have barriers to participating in cultural institutions, will be offered experiences not otherwise available in their schools. Some of the participants may not have been to a gallery or museum, and those who have, still require additional support to participate. Thanks to the support of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, it is possible to work with schools with which the Gallery has had a relationship but has not had the resources with which to deliver a project since 2013. The resulting work will be seen at a special view and photo-call on 7 January 2016.


15 October 2015 -10 January 2016, National Portrait Gallery, London  Admission Charge

Sponsored by Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Tickets with donation: Full price £17 / Concessions £15.50

Tickets without donation Full price £15 / Concessions £13.50 (Free for Members and Patrons) or 020 7766 7344

Press View: 14 October 2015, 10.00-12.00 (with a tour at 10.30).


The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated book by curator Paul Moorhouse andis available to purchase from the National Portrait Gallery shops and online priced £29.95. The German language edition of the catalogue – Giacometti Portraits, Skulpturen, Gemälde, Zeichnungen–  is available from Schirmer/Mosel Verlag, Munich. [email protected]

For further Press information, please contact: Neil Evans, Media Relations Manager, National Portrait Gallery: Tel. 020 7 312 2452 (not for publication) / Email [email protected]  

To download press releases and images, please go to:

National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place WC2H 0HE, opening hours Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday: 10.00 – 18.00 (Gallery closure commences at 17.50) Late Opening: Thursday, Friday: 10.00 – 21.00  (Gallery closure commences at 8.50pm) Nearest Underground: Leicester Square/Charing Cross General information: 0207 306 0055  Recorded information: 020 7312 2463  Website 


Alberto Giacometti

Since his death in 1966, Alberto Giacometti has become recognized internationally as one of the most important and distinctive artists of the twentieth century. Belonging to no particular school or tendency, during the late 1920s and early 1930s his work developed through post-cubist and surrealist phases.  It later attained a mature, individual idiom whose preoccupation with the depiction of a human presence in an enveloping space may be seen in relation to contemporary existentialist concerns with defining the place and purpose of man in a godless universe.  Spanning painting, sculpture, drawing and printmaking, Giacometti’s oeuvre ranges from idiosyncratic surrealist objects to intensely observed images of the human figure.  At the centre of this activity, Giacometti’s portraits of particular individuals have a resonance which the exhibition explores in detail. 

Precociously gifted, Giacometti’s earliest drawings, paintings and sculptures took members of his family and his own image as subjects.  These early works demonstrate Giacometti’s awareness of post-impressionist and divisionist styles.  After moving to Paris in 1922, until the late 1930s sculpture was a principal preoccupation.  During this period, self-portraits and also portraits of his mother and father, his sister Ottilia, and artist friends such as Isabel Nichol were main subjects, sustaining a progressive abstraction.  From 1946 Giacometti resumed painting, and images that depict an individual human presence became central to his work. After 1954, when he began making sculpture from life, increasingly his portraits evolved as the outcome of an ongoing dialogue between painting and sculpture, characterized by a progressive engagement with a limited number of sitters.

Giacometti subjected the human image to a radical process of interrogation and transformation in which the exploration and representation of flesh, presence, distance and space are vital, interacting elements.  The individuals he depicted include his mother; Diego his brother; his wife Annette; Jean Genet the playwright; Caroline; and, finally, Yanaihara and Lotar, both of whom were friends of the artist.   In these compelling images, a human presence seems poised between being and non-being, providing the basis for Giacometti’s reputation as one of the most innovative artists of the last century.

Paul Moorhouse, Curator, Giacometti: Pure Presence, National Portrait Gallery, London 

For more information about the artist please go to:

Bank of America Merrill Lynch Corporate Social Responsibility

Developing solutions for social and economic challenges is at the core of Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s responsibility platform. In more than 90 countries around the world, we partner with employees, clients and stakeholders to help make financial lives better. The company focuses on responsible business practices, environmental sustainability, advancing opportunity in local communities through education and employability programmes and investing in global leadership development. We realise the power of our people and value our differences, recognising that our diversity makes us a stronger firm and allows us to better service our stakeholders. By harnessing our intellectual resources, sharing knowledge and connecting capital with need, we are providing opportunities that effect positive change. Learn more at and follow us on Twitter @BofAML.