Alberto Giacometti is best known for his visionary sculptural responses to postwar Europe. By the late 1950s, he had increased the scale and surface vigor of his work and concentrated almost entirely on portrait heads. For this sculpture, Giacometti looked to Rome and the colossal head of Constantine (c. 330) for inspiration. In 1959–60 he spent time in Italy and produced a sketch of a head, placing special emphasis on its eyes. He explained, “When you represent the eyes precisely, you risk destroying exactly what you are after, namely the gaze…In none of my sculptures since the war have I represented the eyes precisely.” Initially part of a commission for Chase Manhattan Bank Plaza,Monumental Head was intended to oversee a surrounding group of sculptures. Giacometti eventually abandoned the project to focus solely on the head, which he transformed into a memory portrait of his brother Diego. After purchasing Monumental Head in 1962, the Phillips held a major exhibition of Giacometti’s work.
Phillips considered him “one of the most distinguished contemporary sculptors.” He kept the work on permanent view and only reluctantly loaned it to other institutions.