Brook St. Gallery, London (acquired from the above in 1964)
Harold Diamond, New York
Joseph Hirshhorn, Washington (acquired from the above)
Sotheby’s, New York, 11 November 1988, Lot 138A (consigned by the above)
Perls Galleries, New York (acquired from the above sale)
Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2012
Calder’s formative years were spent in Paris, and it was there, prompted by a visit to Piet Mondrian’s studio in 1930, that he made the move into abstraction. Entranced by a series of coloured rectangles Mondrian had tacked to the wall “in a pattern after his nature”, Calder speculated aloud that he “would like to make them oscillate”, contemplating “how fine it would be if everything moved” (Alexander Calder cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, Jonathan O’Hara Gallery, Alexander Calder: Selected Works 1932-1972, 1994, p. 3). Mondrian objected furiously, but Calder could not be deterred. He considered movement “one of the primary elements of [artistic] composition, and realised that the truest representation of movement was not movement in stasis, as the Futurists had attempted to capture, but rather movement composition” (Alexander Calder cited in: ibid., p. 10). In the artist’s words, “You look at an abstraction… an intensely exciting arrangement… It would be perfect, but it is always still. The next step in sculpture is motion” (Alexander Calder cited in: ‘Objects to Art Being Static, So He Keeps It in Motion’, New York World-Telegram, 11 June 1932, n.p.).
Having worked on a miniature scale for much of his career up to that point, from 1953 onwards Calder’s work is predominantly characterised by monumental sculptures produced 'offsite' in Connecticut and Tours, France. As a result, the final twenty-three years of Calder’s life were punctuated by site-specific commissions all over the world, which cemented the American’s burgeoning fame. Despite this period as foreman rather than fabricator, Calder never ceased his production of domestically scaled works in his Roxbury studio, delighting in the increased mobility of these smaller sculptures compared to those on a monumental scale, such as Untitled in the lobby of the Chase Manhattan bank. Fourteen Black Leaves is one such work. Magnificent in its elegance and grace, the present work showcases perfectly what Jean-Paul Sartre described as the ‘lyrical invention’ of Calder’s mobiles.
This fascination with movement and form precluded Calder’s acknowledgement of any ulterior meaning to his work. In the mid-1950s, the heyday of the New York School and American Abstract Expressionism, Calder’s sculpture stood in stark opposition to the tortured and mythic themes of Rothko or Newman. As his wife explained, “He is always expressing his sense of pleasure… He isn’t tormented. He enjoys life” (Louisa Calder, cited in: Exh. Cat., Washington, D. C., National Gallery of Art, Alexander Calder, 1898-1976, 1998, p. 279). Despite this, Calder’s felicity and joie de vivre should not be equated with a lack of seriousness in this magnificent and remarkably varied body of work. Resonating with his interactions, not only with Mondrian but the entire Surrealist cohort active in Paris in the 1930s, as well as an enduring intellectual and personal friendship with Joan Miró, Calder’s work is steeped in a deeply European sophistication and possesses a dignity and elegance unmatched by any other sculptor of his generation. However, it would also be a mistake to see Calder as solely the product of his time and his influences. He was a consummate creator, an inimitable artist whose consistent artistic invention throughout his career is undeniable. Even though he rejected the notion that art could conjure emotion in the way that the Abstract Expressionists claimed, there was always something immensely honest and unapologetic about his work. As Sartre wrote, “Calder does not suggest movement, he captures it… he imitates nothing, and I know no art less untruthful than his” (Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘Existentialist on Mobilist’, Art News, No. 46. December 1947, p. 22).
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