Sibylle Geiger

Painter and Costume Designer

Sibylle Geiger

Sibylle Geiger was born in Switzerland, in one of the most important cities on the contemporary art scene: Basel. Her father, a doctor, and her mother, an artist, introduced Sibylle to a cultural environment packed with stimuli both old and new, giving her books on Botticelli, Michelangelo and Leonardo and taking her to the opera to hear the Magic Flute, Madame Butterfly, Carmen. Sibylle soon learned all the most important arias by memory, and loved to sing them with family and friends. She might have been a musician, but at sixteen she registered in the city's Fine Arts Academy, under the influence of Paul Klee's theories and work at the time. During her artistic and human apprenticeship at the school, Sibylle cultivated a sensibility for art viewed not only as something to show in exhibitions but as an experience to be lived, in different places, through friendships, knowledge, and different forms of expression. She demonstrated a talent for capturing the spirit of her times, the wave of renewal that was washing across Europe, and felt the irresistible need to change, to see new things.

At twenty she moved to Paris to attend a set and costume design school directed by some of the French capital's most successful artists, and made new friends, meeting Giacometti, Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint-Phalle. Almost immediately she started to work with Yves-Bonnat, scenographer for the Monte Carlo Ballet and the Ballet des Champs Elysées. This was her personal debut on the scene, in the intense years of Juliette Greco and French existentialism.
Around this time she also made her first trip to Rome, to see an exhibition in the EUR district. Rome was to be an important city for Sibylle for the rest of her life.

In 1952 she signed a contract with the Staatstheatre of Stuttgart as assistant to the already famous set designer Gerd Richter, with whom she worked on costumes for theatres all over Europe, including Munich, Hamburg and Vienna until ’55, the year of the memorable reopening of the Lindenoper in East Berlin with a production of Mozart's Don Giovanni.
But the freedom of an artist without walls or borders was difficult to reconcile with the delicate balance of political power between East Germany and the President of the Federal Republic, Theodor Heuss, who was related to the Geiger family. The difficult decision to leave the country inevitably led to a pause in her career. Sibylle refused Brecht's invitation and went back to Switzerland, after a brief appointment in Kassel and then in Hamburg.

‘56 and ‘57 were prolific but tough years: as costume designer at the Stadttheatre in Lucerne, she worked on Schiller's Don Carlos, The Barber of Seville, Medea and Gluck's Iphigenie auf Tauris, attracting the attention of Teo Otto, scenery designer in Zurich at the time. Sibylle had to do everything: design, cut and sew the costumes and take care of administration, at the frenetic page of one new show every ten days, including operas, comedies, ballets and operettas. Fatigue overcame her and she was tempted to leave behind the world of art, her life's passion.

But a year later, she met one of the most unforgettable personalities of the twentieth century: anthropologist, coreographer and dancer Katherine Dunham. These were the times of women of great stature such as Josephine Baker and Tamara de Lempicka, who shared Dunham's genius, grandeur and taste for a life of excesses.  As costume assistant on her European tour, Sibylle experienced the inexhaustible vitality of the dance company that included singers and dancers such as Henry Belafonte and Alvin Ailey. The experience provided her with a wealth of anecdotes, artistic inspiration and creative energy.
In ‘62 she moved to Milan to work as scenographer with the Compagnia Italiana di Prosa and costume designer for a comedy staged with Giorgio Albertazzi and Anna Proclemer. In the same year she moved to the Teatro Eliseo in Rome to join the Nuova Compagnia del Dramma Italiano directed by Ruggero Jacobbi.

Her return to Rome marked her debut in the world of film and the beginning of a new period in her art that was to last until 1976.
From that time on, Sibylle Geiger lived and worked in Cinecittà and Spain with the great actors of a genre that was to gain a cult following all over the world, thanks above all to Sergio Leone: the Spaghetti Western. She worked with directors and actors such as Alfonso Brescia, Giuliano Gemma, Peter Lee Lawrence, Amerigo Anton, Lucio Fulci and Joaquin Luis Marchent. She also worked on many of the films of a famous pair of comedians, Franco and Ciccio, who made Sibylle an important part of the great mosaic that was Italian cinema in those days.

In 1976 she went back to Switzerland. And amidst the mountains of Davos, in the peaceful, suspended atmosphere so dear to Kirchner and to Conan Doyle, Sibylle started to paint.
She did not return to her beloved Rome until 1993, after meeting the man who was to become her husband.
In the ancient centre of the city of Rome she ran an art gallery for three years, and as her own painting matured, she held her own personal exhibition of paintings on canvas in 1996.

Since 2000 Sibylle and her husband, Roman nobleman Rocco Piermattei, have lived on the coast of Tuscany amidst the scents of the pine groves and the sea breeze.
In 2006 two exhibitions held at Bologna's historic Circolo Artistico - the city's oldest art institution - exhibited her drawings for scenery and costumes produced over her long career and her paintings since 1990.
In 2007 a great retrospective held at Pasquini Castle in Castigliocello (LI) paid homage to her career, attracting a lot of attention among the critics and unprecedented numbers of visitors for an initiative featuring the so-called "minor" arts. In April of the same year the Gugielmo Marconi Foundation in Sasso Marconi (BO) awarded Sibylle Geiger the annual Art and Science award in the theatre division.

In 2009 Rocco and Sibylle set up the Hermann Geiger Foundation, named after the great Swiss pharmacist and entrepreneur, Sibylle's paternal grandfather. This is one of the reasons why the Foundation's logo is the symbol of the city of Basel. Based in Cecina, the Foundation aims to promote peace, knowledge and the arts, encouraging ethical and interreligious dialogue in different national and social contexts, supporting initiatives in favor of social commitment and developing projects for education and the promotion of knowledge.

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