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Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)

Famous for his mobiles and stabiles, the sculptor Alexander Calder was also a notable painter.

Calder's work displays a free and whimsical spirit.

The two keyhole-shaped vibrantly colored, geometric figures transform a simple design into a dream image.

...purchased from Ann Kendall Richards in New York 1971; authenticated by Mr. Klaus Perls of Perls Gallery in New York

Alexander Calder and Surrealist Imagery

Alexander Calder was born in Philadelphia, the son of Alexander Stirling Calder and grandson of Alexander Milne Calder, both famed sculptors. He received a mechanical engineering degree from Stevens Institute of Technology and worked at odd jobs before enrolling at the Art Students League in New York. His first art job was making line drawings for the National Police Gazette. He published and illustrated his first book, Animal Sketches in 1925. During this time, Calder was producing oil paintings with city scenes. His early sculpture included carved primitive figures in wood. In 1926, he moved to Paris, where he constructed his first wire sculptural ensemble, a miniature circus. He also attended classes at the Académie de la Grande Chaumiere. Calder exhibited his first kinetic or mobile sculpture in 1932. His early mobiles were motor-driven, but later he used wind-driven mobiles which allowed the sculptural parts to move independently. Mobiles were not Calder’s only art form. He also produced drawings, oil paintings, watercolors, etchings, gouache paintings, and serigraphy. In addition, he designed jewelry, tapestry, theater settings, and architectural interiors.

Though Calder is best known for his mobiles and stabiles, his playful attitude, wit, and bold use of color are apparent in his vibrant gouaches. Calder pursued geometric abstraction during this period. Two white forms with spiral-shaped eyes are clearly inspired by Surrealist imagery. These dream-like images are placed against a vividly striped background that makes their presence even more disconcerting. Whimsical, yet frightening, the two stark figures seem to emerge from a hallucinatory landscape, threatening to descend into the viewer’s space.

Greenfield, Howard. The Essential Alexander Calder. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003.

Object Information

Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
creation date
gouache on off-white paper
31-1/4 x 23 in. (sheet)
37 x 28 x 2 in. (framed)
mark descriptions
Inscribed, signed, and dated, l.r.: A Stephane Pizella / Mar[?] 1945 / amicalement Calder / Calder '44
accession number
credit line
Mary B. Milliken Fund
© Estate of Alexander Calder / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
American Painting and Sculpture to 1945

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