Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction


Alexander Calder
1898 - 1976
painted metal and wire standing mobile
114.3 by 36.2 by 61cm.
45 x 14 ¼ x 24in.
Executed in 1939.
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This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York under application number A05551.


Jose Luis Sert, Cambridge, Massachusetts (a gift from the artist)
Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts (gifted from the above in 1982)
Vivian Horan Fine Art, New York
Thomas Ammann Fine Art, Zürich
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1987

Catalogue Note

"The underlying sense of form in my work has been the system of the Universe, or part thereof.  For that is a rather large model to work from."  The artist cited in: Jean Lipman, Calder's Universe, London 1977, n.p.

"Why must art be static?  The next step is sculpture in motion"  The artist cited in: Jacob Baal-Teshuva, Alexander Calder, Cologne 2002, n.p.


Alexander Calder's animalistic and elegantly poised standing mobile Untitled, 1939 is one of the earliest and most potent examples from his iconic mobile series.  Executed at the zenith of his most innovative decade, Calder's Untitled is a rare and unique work which captures the artist's revolutionary vision in its earliest form. 


The 1930s mark a critical turning point in Calder's oeuvre, in which the artist first entertained ideas of sculpture in motion.  Through exploration of this theme, Calder was to realize his infamous mobile - a sculpture which has become synonymous with his name and won him worldwide recognition.  He also began to integrate colour into his work, particularly the primary colours blue, red and yellow, which can be attributed to input from Mondrian and his friends Miró and Léger.  The term mobile was coined by Marcel Duchamp, the painter and Dadaist object artist in 1931 when he first visited Calder's Paris studio - a term he had first used to describe his 1913 ready-made, Bicycle Wheel and since had been experimenting with movement in art.  Calder's mobiles caused a sensation in the art world and it was not until the late 1930s that his most mature and accomplished versions, such as this standing mobile, would be realized.


First introduced in 1939, Calder employed a 'U' shape in this sculpture which would become a signature style of works from this year.  Recalling in shape and spirit Calder's Paris Circus works of the early 1930s, Untitled is a sublime example of the perfection of balance and form.  Calder was endlessly fascinated with the circus and its animals and first realized this theme in his 1926 legendary Cirque Calder, where he included miniature elephants, horses, and lions among others, constructed from wire and cloth.  Calder was mainly attracted to household pets or, as in The Circus, to trained, performing animals and here, their curving forms and playfulness are clearly evident.  As Marchesseau notes, "Calder's many animal figures are a continuation of the drawings done in zoos, such as the sketches into which he introduced glancing bits of humour and sly sexual allusions " (Daniel Marchesseau, The Intimate World of Alexander Calder, Paris 1989, p. 157).  Weightless and airy, the sculpture is almost personified - standing tall and upright with its slender branches extending outwards as if as circus performer itself, juggling spheres of green, orange, yellow and white.  Or taking the form as an animal itself, stretching its limbs and gallantly gallivanting across its infinite space.  The intrinsic whimsical presence born into Calder's work has become a hallmark of his mobiles and embraces the universe's most elementary principals - fusing together concepts of motion and equilibrium to achieve a state of perfect harmony.  

The life of Untitled is historically rich, as it originally was a gift from Calder to his friend the architect José Luis Sert.  Calder and Sert's acquaintance dates back to their collaboration on the Spanish Pavilion for the 1937 World's Fair in Paris.  Sert designed the building and organized the contributors at the precarious time for the Republic of Spain.  Here, Calder exhibited his Mercury Fountain and a mobile alongside works by Miró and the centrepiece of the pavilion, Picasso's Guernica


The first sculptor of his generation to translate the modernist canon of abstract composition into three-dimensional space, Untitled is truly a representation of this idea and embodies Calder's revolutionary artistic vision that art should be as joyful and free as life itself.



Contemporary Art Evening Auction