Lot 6
  • 6

Alexander Calder

3,000,000 - 5,000,000 USD
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  • Alexander Calder
  • Gypsophila on Black Skirt
  • signed with the artist's monogram
  • painted metal and wire standing mobile
  • 30 3/4 x 37 x 7 1/2 in. 78.2 x 94 x 19 cm.
  • Executed in 1950, this work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A04654.


Perls Galleries, New York
Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris (acquired from the above in 1960)
Dwan Gallery, Los Angeles
Betty Freeman, Beverly Hills (acquired from the above in March 1962)
Christie's, New York, May 13, 2009, Lot 13
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Charles Hayden Memorial Library, New Gallery, Calder, December 1950 - January 1951
Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston, Calder - Miró, October - November 1951, cat. no. 19
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Alexander Calder Mobiles, March - April 1953


This sculpture is in very good condition. As is to be expected for a work of this type and age, there are some small chips and losses scattered in places throughout, including to the top and bottom edges of the main black element, to its center, to the white disc elements and to the rods. There is an extremely thin 2½ inch horizontal scratch towards the center of the main inner curve of the black element. Very close inspection shows some traces of inpainting to a number of these losses.
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

Alexander Calder was one of the 20th Century’s most prolific artists in terms not only of the breadth and diversity of his oeuvre but also in the boundless wealth of his sculptural inventiveness. Immersed in the creative world of 1930s Paris, Calder was attentive to the most avant-garde aesthetics of the decade, yet these influences liberated his own ingenuity rather than simply co-opting his aesthetic practice. Although Calder joined Mondrian, Arp, Delaunay and others in the Abstraction-Création group by invitation in 1931, he ultimately did not seek identification with the great artistic movements surrounding him.  Calder chose to give birth to his own revolution and changed our idea of sculpture in the process. More than any other 20thcentury sculptor aside from perhaps Constantin Brancusi, Calder was responsible for the creation of a new sculptural dialect and in the process, gave birth to objects that invited a new terminology.

Calder’s progeny of “mobiles” and “stabiles” were the result of an aesthetic epiphany during a 1930 visit to Piet Mondrian’s studio that is one of the seminal anecdotes of 20th century art. Famously, he was inspired to discover a three-dimensional art form that would embody the reductive palette and spatial inventiveness of Mondrian’s neo-plastic paintings and bring these modernist elements into the viewer’s experience and space. The aerial complexities of his mobiles would follow and the architectonic stabiles would be placed on the gallery floors so as to commingle with viewer. Ultimately, the two would inspire a hybrid form that captured both the stationary elegance of the stabiles with the choreography and movement of the mobiles, all of which is so playfully and gracefully on display in Gypsophila on Black Skirt. Created in 1950 and installed that same year in Calder’s retrospective at MIT in Cambridge that was installed under the supervision of James Johnson Sweeney, Gypsophila on Black Skirt exhibits Calder’s fertile and inquisitive mind filtered through the prism of his extraordinary affinity for balance and engineering.

Gypsophila on Black Skirt
reveals Calder at his most technically adept and conceptually inventive. The diversity of balance and axis in the delicate white hanging elements displays a complex contrapuntal composition full of the cadence and dexterity that are unique to Calder’s canon of suspended forms, moving in a sublime metallic ballet of ever-changing composition. Renowned for their outstanding beauty and craftsmanship, Calder’s mobile elements are a testament to his technical skill, imaginative genius and talent for organic composition and in these respects Gypsophila on Black Skirt is outstanding. The sinuous black base, with its jaunty tail, is a graphically apt counterpoint to the delicate, airy discs, providing a weighty grounding for the composition while echoing the linear creativity of the three-dimensional movement above.

The title of the present work also testifies in dual fashion to Calder’s genius for organic form which assured that both figuration and the lush dynamism of nature would not disappear from his work. Leaves, petals, hanging boughs and sinuous vines had long been a delicately seductive influence on the undulating lines of Calder’s mobiles from the earliest black monumental mobiles such as Eucalyptus (1940) and S-Shaped Vine (1946, The Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica) to other standing mobiles such as the sumptuous Bougainvillier (1947). Gypsophila is a plant native to the Mediterranean regions and may have been familiar to Calder from his many years living and traveling throughoutEurope. Characterized by small pink or white flowers, also known as “baby’s breath,” gypsophila is a wonderfully paradigmatic motif that combines Calder’s proclivities toward the organic and the architectonic. The minute “petals” are here suspended on delicate wire stems, allowing for an equally delicate movement determined by the air around them as they interact with their three-dimensional space. The monochromatic palette of both the floral hanging elements and the more figurative base also highlight Calder’s focus on form and movement as the essential sculptural component. The soft undulation of the black base is evocative of the lithe animals and creatures that would populate Calder’s oeuvre, but the title reference to female attire, brings an added sense of movement to the work, as if a woman’s skirt gently wafts in the breeze. 

These qualities in Gypsophila on Black Skirt also speak to the affinity between Calder and his life-long friend Joan Miró, whom he met in Paris in 1928. Both artists shared an ambition to create a new understanding of art based on a focused engagement with color, line and form to explore spatial composition. Observers have long recognized the similarities and resonance between Calder’s greatest sculptural achievements and Miró’s painterly inventions, leading to combined exhibitions such as the 1951 Calder-Miró exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston in which Gypsophila on Black Skirt was present. As the two artists’ works are observed in the company of each other, one can well imagine the individual white elements or undulating black form of Calder’s Gypsophila on Black Skirt melded into Miró’s evocative array of surrealist and anthropomorphic shapes. In studying the contrast between the two artists, one can appreciate anew the radical nature of the contrapuntal, elegant, dancing and swirling forms of Gypsophila on Black Skirt. Springing forth in graceful and dancing arcs of horizontal and vertical depth, Gypsophila on Black Skirt attests to Calder’s success in bringing form, color and line out into the space inhabited by the viewer.