Lot 3
  • 3

Alexander Calder

1,500,000 - 2,000,000 USD
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  • Alexander Calder
  • Untitled
  • painted metal and wire hanging mobile
  • 40 x 59 x 35 in. 101.6 x 149.8 x 88.9 cm.
  • Executed circa 1946, this work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A17668.


Mary Batsell, Paris (acquired circa 1946 from the artist)
Thence by descent to the present owner in 1987


This sculpture is in excellent condition. It has recently been repainted under the supervision of the artist's foundation.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

"Sculpture suggests movement, painting suggests depth or light. A 'mobile' does not 'suggest' anything; it captures genuine living movements and shapes them. 'Mobiles' have no meaning, makes you think of nothing but themselves. They are, that is all; they are absolutes"
Jean-Paul Sartre, Exh. Cat., Paris, Galerie Louis Carré, Alexander Calder, 1946

A serene exhibition of delicate elegance that plays out a transcendent choreography, almost to the point of defying gravity itself, Alexander Calder’s Untitled of circa 1946 comprises discrete units of brilliant color whose interdependent movements continually transform the dimensions of this breathtaking mobile. Having remained by descent in the same private hands for over half a century, the appearance of this work today offers a glimpse into the evolution of Calder’s legendary sculptural language during the critical period of the late 1940s. Refined metal tendrils project into space and are gracefully punctuated by branching armatures, together acting as supporting architecture to a stunning spatial equilibrium of seemingly weightless sculptural forms. Articulated in a variable schema of ellipses of primary hues, reds, yellows and blues, Calder's instinctual mastery of formal balance and simultaneous invocation of perpetual lyrical movement here reaches an apogee of his 1940s production. By this point of his career Calder's artistic vision and mastery of his materials had reached a height; with assured confidence of artistic direction and command of his abstract sculptural vocabulary, the exquisite Untitled stands among the earliest examples of the commanding sculptural lyricism and poetic style inimitable to Calder's fully-evolved production.

Alexander Calder began making mobiles as a young artist in Paris in the early 1930s when attempting to find a suitable model to translate the Modernists' paintings of abstract form into three-dimensional space. The immediate and decisive event that transformed Calder from the renowned creator of his wire Cirque Calder to a master of abstraction was his famous visit to Piet Mondrian's studio in October 1930. Calder observed that Mondrian's strict neo-plastic principles were projected from his paintings onto the overall environment of the studio. His surroundings were rendered in the basic components of his painterly theory from the reductive palette to purist colors, such as red, to the one white wall containing geometric paper rectangles that could be moved into various compositions. Shortly following this cathartic encounter, Calder asked: "Why must art be static? You look at an abstraction, sculpted or painted, an entirely exciting arrangement of planes, spheres, nuclei, entirely without meaning. It would be perfect but it is always still. The next step in sculpture is motion." (the artist in: 'Objects to Art Being Static, So He Keeps it in Motion', New York World-Telegram, 11 June, 1932) Calder intuitively sensed the creative possibilities of applying geometric and biomorphic abstraction to spatial constructions, and this epiphany was the catalyst for his inventions of the new sculptural types: stabiles, mobiles and the hybrid standing mobiles.

When World War II broke out Calder returned to New York from his European sojourn in Paris; although intensely involved in the New York art scene from the late 1930s through to the early 1950s, his work was ostensibly disaligned with the introspective anguish and emotional turmoil evinced by the contemporaneous New York School. While some of Calder's sculptures engaged themes of the cosmos and the infinite, overall his work retained an exuberant agility that continued as a hallmark through the rest of his career.

In 1946, very near the time of this work’s execution, an exhibition of Calder's work held at Galerie Louis Carré was famously introduced by Jean-Paul Sartre, who described the remarkable potency of the artist's work: "Sculpture suggests movement, painting suggests depth or light. A 'mobile' does not 'suggest' anything; it captures genuine living movements and shapes them. 'Mobiles' have no meaning, makes you think of nothing but themselves. They are, that is all; they are absolutes." (Exh. Cat., Paris, Galerie Louis Carré, Alexander Calder, 1946) Despite Sartre's existentialist view of Calder's work as devoid of any relative content, Calder himself acknowledged influences from the natural world.  Leaves, branches flowers and animals serve as inspiration for Calder's abstract yet organic forms, and appear in many of the titles for the sculptures. With the present work, the geometry of circles aligned in planar movement evokes the orbiting dimensions of the cosmos, while the diminishing armatures suggest such natural phenomena as the fractal sequences innate to the branching of trees or blood vessels.