As a couple, they were active collectors, combining and supporting one another’s distinctive interests. John’s focus was on acquiring Modern and Contemporary European works of art while Elspeth developed a profound appreciation for the works of the Indigenous peoples of Canada's Northwest Coast. Consulting with artists directly, as well as a former curator of the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British-Columbia (MOA), Elspeth built a collection that revealed her discerning eye as well as her commitment to First Nations art and artists. Her collection of indigenous artworks has been widely renowned for its extraordinary quality. In June 2017, on Aboriginal Day, Elspeth enjoyed the opening of the Elspeth McConnell Gallery of Northwest Coast Masterworks, a multi-million dollar renovated space at MOA, funded by her to house her impressive collection.
While she was extremely private, Elspeth cared deeply for others. Among many other accomplishments, in the early 1970s, she started the charity initiative which became Montreal’s Meals on Wheels. The sale of these works will allow Elspeth’s foundation to continue to nurture many of the charities Elspeth selflessly dedicated herself to.
Delicate, dynamic, and dazzling to behold, Alexander Calder’s jewelry pieces – magnificently encapsulated by the present seven lots held in the Collection of Elspeth McConnell – exhibit the genius for design and gesture that defines the artist’s singular sculptural practice. Executed between the late 1930s and early 1950s, these works reveal Calder in the earliest decades of his artistic production and capture the brilliance of one of the most inventive and avant-garde artistic figures at the forefront of European and American art. Jewelry was arguably Calder’s earliest forum of artistic expression; Calder began creating miniature necklaces to adorn his sister’s dolls when he was just eight years old, manipulating small pieces of brass into minute objects. Calder continued to develop and hone his jewelry practice, creating approximately 1,800 unique pieces over the course of his prolific artistic career. Hand-crafted from brass, silver, and steel wires, the present works showcase Calder’s unparalleled dexterity with wired forms and lustrous metals. Whirls of tightly wound coils, intricately crafted curlicue tendrils, and shimmering floating forms adorn these exquisite pieces, each exhibiting Calder’s personal touch and playful charisma. A mainstay of his artistic career and one of his most profound and certainly most intimate expressions of his artistic ingenuity, Calder’s jewelry practice truly revolutionized the medium; Calder imbued his rings, necklaces, brooches, and pins with an elegant and lyrical joie de vivre that was unprecedented and that has since been unmatched.
Alexander Calder was at heart an inventor, never happier than with tools and materials at hand, and his insatiable impulse to create – and through his creations to engage with and imprint upon the world around him – is never more evident than with his wearable sculptural pieces. Rather than employing traditional jewelry techniques like soldering and welding, Calder created all fixings and links for these pieces by fastening the individual components with bent metal. Crafted entirely by hand, Calder’s jewelry pieces often show tool marks and unpolished surfaces, resulting in works of exceptional rarity and dazzling appeal whose refined elegance belies its industrial medium. Just as his mobiles and stabiles engage with their surrounding environment and activate the space that they inhabit, Calder’s jewelry pieces liken their wearers to performance artists. As expressed by scholar Mark Rosenthal: “Calder’s jewelry may be seen as a sort of Surrealistic strategy to entrap the wearer into participating in an art performance, even to become bewitched. To wear the jewelry is to induce dreams and to become metamorphosed. It is typical of Calder and his art to be more allusive than first meets the eye.” (Mark Rosenthal in Alexander S.C. Rower, Ed., Calder Jewelry, New York 2007, p. 67) Many of Calder’s jewelry pieces were inspired by and gifted to friends of his, including Peggy Guggenheim, Georgia O’Keeffe, and, most notably, his wife Louisa James, for whom he created numerous homemade accessories over the course of their marriage. Calder’s jewelry creations quickly became coveted by celebrities and notable figures during his own lifetime, yet he refused to mass-produce his singular, one-of-a-kind creations. “Each work is completely unique – just like his mobiles. His pioneering artistic aesthetic remains an inspiration for leagues of artistic jewelers today,” explained his grandson, Calder Foundation President Alexander S. C. Rower. Evidence of the heightened popularity of Calder’s jewelry, the present collection boasts pieces with illustrious provenance. For example, the spiraled bronze Untitled (Ring) was formerly in the collection of Kenneth Clark, primarily known for his seminal television series Civilisation but also as a director of the National Gallery and a prolific lecturer and author on the arts, while Ring, with its beautifully constructed interlocking pattern, hails from the private collection of Nelson Rockefeller.
Following his graduation from the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1919, Calder occupied a number of disparate jobs, none of which satisfied him as much as the drawing classes he took at night. In 1923, Calder returned to school and enrolled at the Art Students League, which provided the young artist a more progressive and structured schooling than his upbringing. Having been captivated by the ability to create beauty and form from wire and brass at an early age, Calder was now able to wholly embrace his destiny as an artist. Calder began sculpting with brass, a more affordable and available option during the war years, and as he honed his metalworking skills and polished his technique, he increasingly incorporated silver and gold, playfully embellishing his sculptural jewelry pieces with ceramics, glass, and other found objects. Calder’s frequent travels to Paris beginning in 1926 and recurring over the course of the following decades further stimulated his fertile mind, providing Calder a captivating environment in which to experiment with new forms and materials during his early and most formative years and introducing the young artist to his European artistic contemporaries such as Joan Miró, Piet Mondrian, Man Ray, Fernand Léger, Jean Arp and Marcel Duchamp. Working amongst both the European Surrealists and Modernists in Paris and Abstract Expressionists in New York, Calder integrated these various modes of artistic expression. Looking not only to his contemporaries, but also to the past, Calder also drew inspiration from African art and the art of ancient, primitive cultures; for example, the recurrent spiral design in his jewelry pieces was originally a Bronze Age motif. As an extension of his larger sculptural practice, Calder’s jewelry exemplifies the imaginative ingenuity that characterizes the very best of the artist’s celebrated oeuvre, here magnificently captured on an intimate scale.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.