Lot 36
  • 36


2,000,000 - 3,000,000 GBP
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  • Alexander Calder
  • Untitled
  • incised with the artist's monogram on the white element
  • painted sheet metal and steel wire
  • 97 by 180 by 47 cm. 38 1/8 by 70 7/8 by 18 1/2 in.
  • Executed in 1956.


Galleria dell’Obelisco, Rome
Marcello Mascherini, Trieste (acquired from the above in 1956)
Private Collection, Trieste (by descent from the above in 1983)
Thence by descent to the present owner in 2011


Rome, Galleria dell’Obelisco, Alexander Calder, March 1956 Trieste, Circolo della Cultura e delle Arti, Calder, June - July 1956

Città di Castello, Palazzo Vitelli alla Cannoniera, Prima di Burri e con Burri, March - June 2005, pp. 56-57, illustrated in colour (incorrectly dated)
Udine, Chiesa di San Francesco; Pordenone, Palazzo Ricchieri e Villa Galvani, AFRO & Italia - America: Incontri e Confronti, November 2006 - March 2007, p. 205, illustrated in colour (incorrectly dated)

Nuoro, Museo MAN, La galassia di Arp, November 2013 - February 2014, p. 29, illustrated in colour (incorrectly dated)

Florence, Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Da Kandinsky a Pollock: La Grande Arte dei Guggenheim, March - July 2016, p. 296, no. 95, illustrated in colour (incorrectly dated)

Brussels, ING Art Center, Guggenheim: Full Abstraction, October 2016 - February 2017, p. 137, illustrated in colour (incorrectly dated)


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is deeper and richer in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. There is minor surface dirt to the metal elements. Close inspection reveals scattered minor losses and scuffs in places to the paint layer, which is the artist's original application. Close inspection also reveals some light handling marks to the two large elements. The mobile’s wire branches are undistorted. No restoration is apparent when examined under ultraviolet light.
"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. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

“Just as one can compose colors, or forms, so one can compose motions.” Alexander Calder cited in: Modern Painting and Sculpture, Berkshire Museum, 1933


Created in 1956, the present mobile by Alexander Calder was acquired by the twentieth-century Italian sculptor, Marcello Mascherini the same year. Having remained in the Mascherini family collection since this time, its appearance at auction illustrates a unique creative dialogue between two ostensibly divergent, yet conceptually linked artists. Known for figurative bronze sculptures that echo the absolute forms of Jean Arp and Alexander Archipenko, Mascherini sought out a graceful freedom of natural form in ways that are parallel to the smooth gliding lines of Calder’s mobiles. Concerned with space as much as concrete materiality, both artists’ work can be considered as treatises on the mutability of sculpture and our relationship to it. Whether or not both artists knew each other is unclear, however, because Mascherini was a member of the Venice Biennale Council in 1952 – the year Calder won the Grand Prize for sculpture – it is very likely that both artists would have met prior to the acquisition of the present work.

First exhibited in at Galleria dell’Obelisco in Rome, the present work was created at the very height of Calder’s career. During the late 1940s and early 1950s Calder had already been championed as an abstract artist of sophistication and significant avant-garde import; in 1943 he became the youngest artist ever to be afforded a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; in 1949, he created his largest mobile to date, International Mobile, an immensely impressive work that was the centrepiece of the 3rd International Exhibition of Sculpture at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; and a couple of years later he was the prize-winning flag bearer of American post-war art the 1952 Venice Biennale.

Herein, narrating this period of artistic assurance and critical acclaim, the present work comprises the absolute essence of Calder’s aesthetic. Individually painted metal elements, in a simple palette of black, white and red, appear suspended within a delicately constructed arrangement of form. The small black and white elements seamlessly offset the ethereal gliding movements of the individual coloured shapes below as they each pursue their own unique path. The large red elements and cascade of variously sized black elements are suspended in perfect counterbalance to one another; as the slightest breath of air drifts through they begin to rotate smoothly and organically. In the catalogue essay for Calder’s seminal 1946 exhibition at Galerie Louis Carré in Paris, the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre distilled the unique complexity of the artist’s mobiles: “Calder establishes a general fated course of movement, then abandons them to it: time, sun, heat and wind will determine each particular dance. Thus the object is always midway between the servility of the statue and the independence of natural events. Each of its twists and turns is an inspiration of the moment. In it you can discern the theme composed by its marker, but the mobile weaves a thousand variations on it. It is a little hot-jazz tune, unique and ephemeral, like the sky, like the morning. If you missed it, it is lost forever” (Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘Les Mobiles de Calder' in Exh. Cat., Paris, Galerie Louis Carré, Alexander Calder: Mobiles, Stabiles, Constellations, pp. 9-19). As brilliantly described by Sartre, the best examples of Calder’s mobile sculptures, such as Untitled, are thoughtfully and deliberately composed by the artist and then left to commune autonomously and naturally with their physical environment; the precise quality of their movements dependent on the slightest atmospheric shift.

Marcel Duchamp coined the term 'mobile' for Calder's works in 1931, after which Calder went on to revolutionise the concept of traditional sculpture by utilising the full potential of bodies in motion through a remarkable manipulation of metal and wire. Calder’s earliest wire sculptures – frequently portraits of well-known figures of the day – had caused a sensation when exhibited in Paris and New York during the late 1920s, yet the sculptor still sought the elusive breakthrough that would enable him to forge an entirely new form of artistic expression. The answer arrived during a now legendary visit to Piet Mondrian’s studio in 1930, where the sight of rectangles of coloured paper, arranged on the wall for the purpose of compositional experimentation, inspired Calder to think of the kinetic possibilities of art. Following this legendary visit, Calder spent the next twenty years perfecting his now iconic mobiles. In an interview at the time of his first New York gallery show in 1930 Calder announced: “Why must art be static?... You look at an abstraction, sculptured or painted, an intensely 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” (Alexander Calder cited in: Howard Greenfield, The Essential Alexander Calder, New York 2003, p. 67). From that seminal moment on, Calder remained steadfast in his exploration of sculpture’s potential for kinetic movement.

This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A18117.