July 06, 1987 12:00 PM

by Daniel Marchesseau

He was the silent one, the brother who lived in the shadows. Everyone knew his sibling, Alberto Giacometti, the sculptor renowned for his emaciated figures, shaped and gouged to the bone by an insistent hand. But today the work of Diego, Alberto’s younger brother, has emerged as brilliant in its own right. Marchesseau, curator of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, makes clear that Diego, one of the most talented furniture makers of the 20th century, was as much an artist as his brother. During Alberto’s lifetime Diego worked selflessly as his collaborator. He made armatures for many of his brother’s sculptures and took charge of the bronze casting. Alberto acknowledged Diego’s great worth. “The sculptor, that’s Diego,” he once told photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. But Diego attracted little attention. Even the highly praised bases he designed for Alberto’s figures were so skillfully made they seem to grow out of the sculptures. But when Alberto died in 1966, Diego in a very real sense was reborn. For the next 19 years he created beautifully proportioned tables, lamps, chairs and stools. Rustic but elegant, they combine an effortless classicism with a quiet whimsicality. Diego often, for instance, attached animals to his work. Elephants, wolves, foxes, stags, frogs and rats, a menagerie of little creatures, turn up on the stretchers of many of his tables. A turtle dove perches on the top of a garden table he made in 1978. A mouse on its hind legs prepares to scamper up the leg of a low table completed about 1982. While they remain distinctive, Diego’s animals were just grace notes. “His tiny beasts were only fantasies for him,” Marchesseau writes, “a wink of a friendly eye.” Marchesseau, who was collaborating with Giacometti on this book at the artist’s death in 1985, traces Diego’s life from his childhood in the bleak village of Stampa in the Swiss Alps to his existence in Paris, where he lived and worked for 60 years. In short, absorbing chapters he describes the artist’s studio and his casting techniques, including his work on his last and greatest commission: the chandeliers, tables and chairs he created for the Picasso Museum in Paris. After Giacometti’s death, an assistant attached Headwaiter Cat to his tomb. A sculpture of a cat standing upright bearing a bowl in its paws, it was Diego Giacometti’s favorite work. Written and designed with unusual grace and restraint, this lovely art book contains more than 300 photographs of Giacometti and his work. (Abrams, $75)

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