LONDON – The motif of animals, such as The Red Stag, has accompanied Calder throughout his artistic career. His love of animals dates back to his childhood years when as an eleven-year-old boy he fashioned two small figures of a duck and a dog and gave them as a Christmas presents to his parents. Some years later, after moving to New York to study at the Arts Students League, Calder worked at the National Police Gazette where he was given the task of illustrating sporting events and the famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Out of his fascination for the elegant movements of the circus’s acrobats and the vast space of the performance resulted in Cirque Calder, one of Calder’s most celebrated and well-known works.
In 1926, Calder moved to Paris where the international avant-garde immediately embraced his ingenious wire sculptures and complex Cirque Calder performances. Calder met Piet Mondrian in his studio in 1930 and was deeply impressed by the actuation of space. He used this experience as a point of departure to develop the unique and revolutionary language of abstraction which would become his signature style.
As early as 1937 Calder created his first stabile enlarged from a maquette of an animal titled Devil Fish. More than 35 years later, The Red Stag is an affirmation of Calder’s absolute mastery of metal sculpturing. The work not only reveals the artist’s playful character through the whimsical motion of the animal’s head, but it is also a lyrical homage to one of the artist’s most prominent subjects. Sensitive to the most minimal air current, the stag’s head dances cheerfully, and the artist’s choice of a bold red hue for the sculpture – a colour he favoured in his creations – adds to its jovial tone. In its entirety, The Red Stag is undoubtedly an outstanding example of the artist’s late work and a reflection of his extraordinary vivacity and creative energy.
By the end of the 1960s, Alexander Calder had manifested himself as one of the preeminent American sculptors with major solo exhibitions around the globe including the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires. Nonetheless, the American artist remained inquisitive about the possibilities and boundaries of art and sculpture in particular throughout his entire life and continued to create works of utmost artistic innovation and intellectual vigorousness up until his death in 1973.
Boris Cornelissen is a specialist in the Contemporary Art department, Sotheby’s London.