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24 x 65 in. 61 x 165.1 cm.
painted metal hanging mobile
Executed in 1952, this work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A20239.
Dr. G. Robert and Charlotte F. Saunders, Old Saybrook (acquired directly from the artist in 1952)
Thence by descent to the present owners in 1990
As with many of Alexander Calder's creations, the present work was the result of a lively conversation over dinner at the artist's Roxbury, Connecticut home. Untitled is a rare and beautiful work that has never been seen publicly and has been in the same family's possession since its execution over 50 years ago. Insightful recollections of the family's initial interactions with Calder have been recorded and provide an intimate and fascinating glimpse into the execution, life and history of this wonderful mobile.
The present work, Untitled, from 1952 embodies Calder's objective to merge nature with art in his innovative sculptures of mobiles and stabiles. Using simple geometric and biomorphic forms, Calder created a new sculptural vocabulary of pure shape and color arranged in a lyrical equilibrium of playful vitality and balletic weightlessness. His mobiles were a means of approximating the freedom, mystery and child-like joy of earthly existence, and he was the first sculptor of his generation to translate the Modernist canon of abstract composition into three- dimensional space. Yet throughout his career, Calder oscillated between pure abstract forms and more literal and figurative representations. Much of Calder's work is based in natural imagery from the celestial to plants and animals. Calder's environment -- whether the rolling fields of Connecticut farms or the charming surroundings of the small town of Saché, France where he spent a large part of his life -- was key in formulating his work. The curved shapes of his metal elements would take on forms of trees, branches, fish, elephants, horses, globes, stars and moons. Even in his most abstracted mobiles, the outwardly extending wires and elements still faintly recall limbs, branches and leaves since they are animated by the movement of air around them.
Untitled, 1952 is itself a combination of Calder's naturalistic forms and abstracted shapes with it's literal representation of fish, one of Calder's most popular and desirable motifs. It has been noted that the dangling shapes and clusters of Calder's 1930s mobiles sometimes suggest schools of fish, and in a more literal sense, he created approximately a dozen major mobiles of metal and glass in the form of fish throughout the 1940s and 1950s. In other cases, as with the silver bed-head that Peggy Guggenheim commissioned Calder to design in 1945-46 that now resides in the Guggenheim Museum in Venice, shell-like patterns and flurries of fish appear intricately woven throughout a complex composition.
In the present work, Untitled, from 1952, the delicately placed abstract elements fan out in a balanced composition with the shapes of two fish and bubbles that seemingly bob in the air. Feathering out in classic mobile fashion, the geometric shapes float next to the fish and balance the dynamic of the mobile, with the air that catches the pierced elements providing much of the movement of the work. It appears the larger fish is playfully blowing bubbles with the four circular rings from which it is suspended. As if swimming in the sea, the fish take on life as they float through air, responding to the gently shifting air around them. Painted in one solid color -- black -- the sculpture exists sleek and united, an elegant arrangement in an infinite space.
Calder had made this particular fish mobile after several dinner conversations with the family of the present owners. Original correspondence as to the execution of the piece has been saved and memoirs recorded. As one letter from the original owner recalls, "We went up and had about 2/5ths of bourbon with him [Calder] one evening and enjoyed his wife, who was a famous conversationalist. We had been warned not to accept any of the mobiles he had hanging around and got ourselves invited to dinner, after he had made one. ...Took up lobster to the studio three weeks later and took delivery of the mobile. The evenings were so much fun, the walls of his latrine were covered with funny letters from people wanting lessons on how to make mobiles" (written in March 1982).