• Post-War & Contemporary Mornin auction at Christies

    Sale 2220

    Post-War & Contemporary Morning Session

    11 November 2009, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 119

    Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

    Toadstool with Hovering Excrescences

    Price Realised  


    Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
    Toadstool with Hovering Excrescences
    signed with artist's monogram 'CA' (on the base)
    standing mobile--painted sheet metal and wire
    9½ x 9 x 7 in. (24.1 x 22.8 x 17.7 cm.)
    Executed in 1948.

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    This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A01659.


    Buchholz Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1949

    Pre-Lot Text

    Property from the Estate of Norma Solway Ehrlich

    Norma Solway, born in 1921, was the elder daughter of Harry and Anna Solway, owners of a prosperous Cincinnati furniture store. After a brief period of study at the University of Cincinnati Solway moved, in 1942, to New York City to attend classes at the Art Students League and immerse herself in New York's visual arts, both at museums and at private galleries.

    Norma pursued her interest in the arts throughout her long life and communicated her love of the arts to many people. Among them was her half-brother Carl Solway, now a noted dealer in contemporary art, who credits her with awakening his interest in the subject by taking him to the Museum of Modern Art when he visited her in New York.

    Norma loved all periods of art history from antiquity onwards, but she embraced the modern movements above all else. Over a span of fifty years she filled her homes with modern furniture, paintings, graphics and sculpture. When she built a house in Greenwich, Connecticut she commissioned furniture from George Nakashima for the dining room.

    Purchased in New York from Curt Valentin of Buchholz Gallery in January of 1949 Toadstool with Hovering Excrescences was to be one of two Calder sculptures to enter the collection; however the family itself was growing and as they were blessed with a recent newborn Norma and her husband refrained and purchased only one of the few works that caught Norma's eye.

    Executed in 1948, Toadstool with Hovering Excrescences is a charming example of Calder's most tantalizing kinetic sculptures. Unlike many of Calder's standing mobiles this work balances not a single element but several individual elements on two separate pivot points with a subtle delicacy; proving, in its simplicity, Calder's total mastery of engineering and control over materials. Awe inspiring, this work is a magical doppelganger to its inspiration and namesake, the common mushroom; in Toadstool with Hovering Excrescences Calder establishes an homage to his inspiration, in all seriousness, a modern rendition of the Faberge egg.

    On a visit to the artist's studio in 1948-1949, Calder's dear friend Andre Masson wrote and decorated a little poem as a gift for Calder. An intimate note between friends, one verse in particular lends itself as a fitting evocation of Toadstool with Hovering Excrescences.
    Here the seconds have not the weight of the clock
    nor do they lie quiet in the grass
    for they cannot conceive of immobility
    they love the rustling of reeds
    and the cry of the tree-toad so expert at
    musical breathing
    and they play between your fingers, Calder, my friend.
    (Andre Masson, "The Studio of Alexander Calder," Calder, New York, 1971, p. 56)

    Finally, it is the children of Norma Solway that express best the pleasure that the Calder of 1948 has given their family over the past sixty years.
    "We knew the piece was special, yet it was an integral part of ordinary domestic life. We would marvel at the way it moved. It stayed with us through all our moves of house. Mom and Dad defined home, but so did that piece. Home was where the Calder was. This wonderful piece of sculpture has been loved by dozens if not hundreds of children. We can't help thinking that this would have pleased Alexander Calder. It certainly pleased our mother."