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Giacometti: a Foundation, an Association, and a Catalogue Raisonné

By Colby Meagle

Screen Shot 2017-09-29 at 11.17.22 AMRenowned Swiss sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti passed away in 1966. Although he died childless, his legacy lives on as his works continue to grow in value and prestige across the world, strengthening his reputation as a prolific artist. One of the staples for retaining a robust art market for works posthumously is the existence of a catalogue raisonné. As demand for works grows, collectors need to reduce the risk of buying forgeries. In the 2000’s there was a ring of dealers and sellers marketing in forged Giacometti’s who are said to have made close to $9 million from their illegal business. One of the contributing factors to the forgers success may have been the lack of communication between the Giacometti Association and the subsequent Foundation, which halted progress in creating a dependable catalogue raisonné. Yet, despite the wake up call that a discovery of a forgery scandals produced, the market for Giacometti’s work has remained strong. The following is a discussion on how Giacometti’s overture has progressed.  

It is important to know that Giacometti’s death more half a century ago conveyed his droit morale rights, which are moral rights retained by the author (and recognized in France) of an artistic work, to his family, allowing family members to opine on authenticity of works created by their ancestors. French law recognizes perpetual moral rights, so that the artist’s reputation, Giacometti’s in this case, can be safeguarded absolutely. However, it can also lead to conflict between family members and copyright owners who disagree with what the artists would have wanted. This is true of Giacometti’s family members, who often found themselves in dispute with both the Association and the Foundation. The disagreements frequently concerned the right of authorship, or Droit à la Paternité, and the authenticity of works.      

Preparations for the Giacometti catalogue raisonné were commenced immediately after the artist’s death by his widow, Annette Giacometti, who resided in Paris at the time, and dutifully collected information and accumulated data over the following years. Before her death in 1993, Annette created the Giacometti Association (1986), intending it to be a place-holder until the Foundation described in Alberto’s will could be properly established (a daunting task due to heavy French regulations on Artist Foundations) (Reviving Giacometti’s Legacy, 2015). The association was housed in a building in the Cour de Rohan, in Paris.

Only in 2003, the Giacometti Foundation came into being; however, the Association did not dissolve as the settlor (Annette) intended. Rather, a lengthy and muddied string of disagreements and lawsuits, primarily in France, ensued, involving the two organizations and some of members of their staffs, as well as various family members, over the right to represent the artist. This caused quite a setback for the development of the catalogue raisonné. During one particular legal battle in 2001, brought by the Foundation against the Association, the court seized all of the papers and documents that the Association, and their secretary Mary Lisa Palmer, had been working on for over twenty years. Allegedly, nobody bothered to organize them as they were packed into boxes and taken under court order.

One incident made headlines in 2007, when Roland Dumas the executor of Annette’s estate, and the former French foreign minister, was convicted of illegally selling Giacometti’s works. The purchaser was Jacques Tajan, a notable auctioneer at the time, and he was likewise convicted for being involved in the conspiracy. Both men were said to have defrauded the foundation of nearly 2 million dollars from the sale of 14 sculptures and four paintings. (See “The case of the dishonourable Roland Dumas”).       

Thankfully, in 2013 there was a ceasefire between the warring parties. The Giacometti Association finally dissolved and any left over legal disputes were mostly resolved or abandoned. With the newly developed detent, the Giacometti Foundation was finally able to resume work on the Giacometti catalogue raisonné.

Much of the cataloging work is overseen by the foundation’s authenticator, Michèle Kieffer, who has an advanced degree in art history from Université Panthéon Sorbonne in Paris, and has been a research assistant at the Foundation before becoming the manager of the Giacometti Committee in 2015. She specializes  on Giacometti’s sculptures. Kieffer’s duties include organizing the day to day life of the Committee, being a liaison between auction houses and collectors, and elaborating the catalogue raisonné. 

In 2016, the Foundation published the first installment of the artist’s extensive body of work in the 2016 catalogue raisonné of Giacometti’s graphic works, Catalogue Raisonné of Prints by Alberto Giacometti (Berne: Editions Galerie Kornfeld, 2016). The first catalogue consists of two volumes of around 500 works and is accompanied by black and white photographs. The Foundation, employing around fifteen team members, continues to work on catalogue raisonnés for Giacometti’s paintings, drawings, and sculptures. In the meantime, the Foundation’s website offers a large searchable database of his work.    

Catalogue Raisonné of Prints by Alberto Giacometti is available for purchase online at various resell sites, the average price for the two volume set is around $550.


About the Author: Colby Meagle is a 2019 J.D. candidate at Pepperdine University School of Law. Prior to law school, she received her B.A. in Arts Administration and B.F.A from Elon University in 2016. She can be reached at