Gazing upward, the slender Eli Lotar (photographer and frequent sitter for Alberto Giacometti) is depicted in the famed sculptor’s final work, Buste d’homme assis (Lotar III). Found by his brother Diego upon his return to Paris from Chur, where the artist traveled for medical treatment, the unheated studio, with formerly damp cloths draped over the sculpted clay, had frozen in the winter cold. Amidst the danger of shattering the work beneath, “Diego built a fire in the stove, a slow fire at first, taking care not to heat the place too quickly. His work had to be done with utmost patience and skill. It was the very last time he would be called on to perform such work. When the rags were thawed enough to be unwrapped, he saw that the clay had not burst. Alberto’s final work remained intact” (J. Lord, Giacometti: A Biography, p. 518).
A sculptor of faces, figures, and gestures, Giacometti typifies this tripartite of artist, model and representation within the posthumously cast bronze. As if a kneeling Egyptian pharaoh, the severe and somber Lotar sits resolutely, the once malleable pinches and chasms of clay articulating the artist’s last vision. Lotar became a frequent sitter near the end of Giacometti’s life, advantageously photographing the progress of his work, tracing the changes of his own features.
Some time after Giacometti’s death, Diego placed a cast of Buste d’homme assis (Lotar III) on the artist’s grave, alongside a small bird he sculpted for his brother. The original clay, the plaster and first bronze cast of this work are held in the collection of the Fondation Giacometti while further casts are found in the Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence, the Museo Ciäsa Granda, Stampa, Switzerland and the Fondation Beyeler, Basel.