In October of 1930, Alexander Calder’s fabled visit to Piet Mondrian’s studio marked the artist’s systemic shift to abstraction. Mondrian’s studio was a spatial translation of his paintings: immaculate white walls were composed with removable rectangles of red, blue and yellow, the red cube of a phonograph accented the spacious calm of the central room. As Calder wrote years later in his autobiography, "This single visit gave me a shock that started things. Though I had heard the word ‘modern’ before, I did not consciously know or feel the term ‘abstract.’ So now, at thirty-two, I wanted to paint and work in the abstract." (Alexander Calder, An Autobiography in Pictures
, New York, 1966, p. 113) For a few weeks following the visit to Mondrian’s studio, Calder created abstract paintings and quickly evolved to focus on movement, creating the abstract, kinetic sculptures which Marcel Duchamp coined “mobiles” – referring to “motion” and “motive” in French – in 1931.
In January 1931, Calder began to broaden his acquaintances among the admirers of Mondrian. Through his compatriot, William Einstein, he met Jean Hélion. Hélion, a French painter, was formative in establishing the movement toward abstraction, having begun creating nonfigurative work two years prior. With Theo van Doesburg and others in 1930, Hélion formed the artists' association Art Concret which was succeeded by Abstraction-Création the following year. Hélion invited Calder to join the newly founded Abstraction-Création group of non-representational artists in Paris. In its creative manifesto dated February 15, 1931, Abstraction-Création urged for “progressive abstraction of forms from nature” and “a conception of a purely geometrical order… the exclusive use of elements commonly called abstract such as circles, planes, bars, lines, etc.” (Exh. Cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Calder, Paris Years 1926-1933
, 2008, p. 110) Calder participated in the first Abstraction-Création show at Galerie Percier in April 1931, exhibiting his first abstract spherical sculptures made in painted wire and wood. Throughout the next few years, Calder continued to develop his brand of abstraction and movement. By mid-1933, with the war imminent, Calder and his wife Louisa left Paris with friends Jean Hélion and his wife Jean Blair Hélion, returning to the United States. Calder set up his studio in Roxbury, Connecticut and Hélion in Virginia and the two continued a friendship for decades, with Calder gifting lot 105 to Hélion for his later marriage to Jacqueline in 1967.
The early 1940s marked a seminal moment in Calder’s oeuvre, culminating a decade of experimentation following his invention of the mobile in 1931. During the thirties Calder expanded his artistic vocabulary to include kinetic objects, systems of weights and balances, and an array of non-traditional materials, including found objects, string, wood, and wire, resulting in one of the most innovative and confident periods of his career before he was forced to cease working in his signature sheet metal, in support of America’s war effort. Sotheby's is privileged to offer the following works from this important early 1940s period, particularly lots 103 and 104, exceptional representations of Calder’s lyrical abstraction, which were formerly in the collection of the influential Jean Hélion, having been gifts from his friend, Alexander Calder.