Of the nine casts of the present sculpture, one bronze and the plaster are in the collection of the Alberto Giacometti Foundation, Paris.
During 1946 Alberto Giacometti modeled several busts of Simone de Beauvoir, who three years later published The Second Sex, the pioneering text that laid the groundwork for modern feminism. She and her partner Jean-Paul Sartre had known about the artist, whom they had occasionally sighted from a distance, since the late 1930s. “We were especially intrigued by one man, a handsome, chunky-faced fellow, with searching eyes and a wiry mop of hair,” Beauvoir wrote in her memoirs. “He had an air of being at one and the same time as solid as a rock and freer than an elf: the combination was too much for us” (The Prime of Life, Cleveland, 1962, p. 224).
When they finally met the artist, Beauvoir and Sartre found him to be a fascinating conversationalist. “He went straight to the heart of a subject and teased it out with unbound patience,” Beauvoir recalled. “Everything interested him; curiosity was the special shape that his passionate love of life assumed. This insatiable attitude I found most heart-warming” (ibid., p. 387). When writing her novel She Came to Stay, completed in 1941, Beauvoir based the character of Marcel on Giacometti, together with his description of Marcel Duchamp’s life and art. Beauvoir’s Marcel, like Giacometti, sought to attain “a condition of absolute creation” (ibid., p. 429).
Following his wartime exile in Geneva, Giacometti returned to Paris in November 1945; the sum product of his wartime work could fit into six matchboxes that he carried in his coat pockets. The artist turned to the familiar faces of pre-war friends such as Beauvoir and Sartre as his models for paintings, drawings, and sculptures. Even in its miniature size, the head of Simone de Beauvoir demonstrates a striking likeness to its sitter, captured in fine details, meticulously formed, including her characteristic raised coiffure and hairband.
Beauvoir and Giacometti shared a mutually inspired kinship that proved to be deep and enduring. Once in the café Deux Magots, in 1948, Beauvoir recounts, “I gazed at the blank sheets of paper in front of me. I felt the need to write in my fingertips, and the taste of words in my throat, but I didn’t know where to start, or what. ‘How wild you look!’ Giacometti said to me at one point. ‘It’s because I want to write and I don’t know what.’ ‘Write anything’ [he replied]. In fact, I wanted to write about myself” (Force of Circumstance, New York, 164, p. 103). Beauvoir considered this momentary exchange with the artist to have been a catalyst towards writing The Second Sex. Published a year later in 1949, The Second Sex caused a sensation, selling a remarkable 22,000 copies during its first week in bookstores.