© Succession Alberto Giacometti / 2022, ProLitteris, Zurich

In Paris, (Swiss) Italian is also the language of art

For Italian Language Week 2022, the Swiss embassy in Paris went in search of works left behind by Swiss Italians past and present. At the top of a long list is an artist from the canton of Graubünden, who, from an atelier of just 24 square metres in the Montparnasse district, became famous the world over for his artistic creations. We are of course talking about Alberto Giacometti, who is not the only Swiss Italian to have left his mark in France. An alternative tour in the City of Light – in which you will also discover a bit about Italian-speaking Switzerland.

Stroll through the streets of Paris and you can discover something about Switzerland too. There's an expression in Italian which we also have in English, namely that when you manage to achieve two goals at once you kill two birds with one stone. If you happen to be in the Montparnasse district of Paris – or if you're looking for a reason to visit the French capital – there's no place better to discover the history of the painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, who found in Paris the ideal place to develop his art. But the story of Alberto Giacometti begins far away from Montparnasse – in Bregaglia in Switzerland, his home region. It is one of the four Italian-speaking valleys in the canton of Graubünden which, together with the canton of Ticino, form the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. From the Swiss mountains to the French metropolis: let the tour commence! With the Swiss ambassador to France, Roberto Balzaretti, we enter the Paris atelier of the artist from Bregaglia.

Cover image: © Succession Alberto Giacometti / 2022, ProLitteris, Zurich

© Keystone

From Bregaglia to Paris

Alberto Giacometti is known worldwide, in particular for his elongated bronze sculptures, one of which is entitled 'Walking Man I'. On the occasion of Italian Language Week 2022, Swiss ambassador Roberto Balzaretti visited the Giacometti Institute, the first museum of its kind, which since 2018 has been dedicated to the artist's life and works and is managed by the foundation of the same name. Born in Stampa, Alberto Giacometti moved to Paris in 1922.

Although he often returned to Bregaglia, Paris became his second home, to the point that when Giacometti spoke of home he meant the 'Ville Lumière'

Ambassador Roberto Balzaretti

Alberto Giacometti lived and worked for 40 years in his small studio located in the Montparnasse district. Swiss photographer Ernst Scheidegger, who visited him in 1948, described the atelier in one of his books as lacking in comfort, "but every object, every space of each wall bore the traces of his work." The Giacometti Institute has reconstructed the atelier, which can now be visited. Close to the Ciäsa Granda Museum in Bregaglia, which shows other works by the artist in Stampa, we also find another atelier linked to the Giacometti family. Alberto Giacometti's father, Giovanni, was in fact a painter and studied in Paris from 1888 to 1891. In 1906, he built a studio in a small stable in the centre of Stampa, which was later also used by his sons. We now leave Montparnasse and Stampa behind, and move on to other regions of France... this time by bicycle.


Contemporary artists from Ticino 

Château Faugères, Saint-Etienne-de-Lisse. © DFAE
Château Faugères, Saint-Etienne-de-Lisse.


Our tour continues by bicycle. 'En route avec la Suisse' is the name of an initiative launched by the Swiss embassy in France. Between March 2022 and October 2023, Ambassador Roberto Balzaretti will cycle the roads of France in stages. His goal: to get to know the French regions and communities that breathe life into Franco-Swiss bilateral relations on a daily basis. During the first stages, Balzaretti discovered the traces of a famous architect from Mendrisio in the canton of Ticino – Mario Botta – whose architectural works have reached as far as the United States and China. 

Here are the traces of Botta you can visit in France: pass through the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and Nouvelle-Aquitaine regions and enter the 'Maison du livre, de l'image et du son' in Villeurbanne and the Château Faugères wine cellar in Saint-Etienne-de-Lisse, described as a 'cathedral of wine'. At Évry Cathedral, you can also recognise and admire the architect's work.

Projects such as these certainly allow us to get to know the area better, but they also represent a journey into multilingual Switzerland, encountering works by artists and authors from Italian-speaking Switzerland scattered throughout France.

Ambassador Roberto Balzaretti

Felice Varini, « Double disque évidé par les toits », Salon de Provence 2013, Salon de Provence/Marseille Provence 2013.  Photo: André Morin
Felice Varini, « Double disque évidé par les toits », Salon de Provence 2013, Salon de Provence/Marseille Provence 2013. 
Photo: André Morin


We conclude our tour by returning to the capital, to a contemporary artist from Locarno. His name is Felice Varini and he settled in France over 40 years ago. Known for his open-air art, his works fit into the landscape. Some of his best known pieces are: 5 Open Ellipses (2009), Nine dancing triangles (2012) and Concentric, eccentric (2018). A journey through different shapes, materials and colours. 

This is just a taster of the many traces of Swiss Italians in France, to be discovered on foot or – why not – by bicycle. The list of characters will continue to grow as we look towards the 2023 edition of Italian Language Week. 


Embassy of Switzerland in Paris

Fondation Giacometti

En route avec la Suisse

Fondation Beyeler, Giacometti