• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 2049

    Post-War & Contemporary Art Morning Session

    13 November 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 133

    Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

    Untitled

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
    Untitled
    hanging mobile--painted sheet metal, wire, wood and string
    36 x 52 x 30 in. (91.4 x 132.1 x 76.2 cm.)
    Executed circa 1939.


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    This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A23955.

    Provenance

    Elma Slade Chess, Washington, Connecticut, acquired from the artist
    Joanna Cook Chess Bergson, Orleans, Massachusetts, acquired by descent


    Pre-Lot Text

    The Joanna Cook Chess Bergson Collection

    The following selections of classic works by Alexander Calder from the Joanna Cook Chess Bergson Collection are the tangible result of a precious and close-knit relationship between the Chess and Calder families dating back to the early 1940s. When Joanna Cook Chess Bergson was born in 1946, the two families had already enjoyed several years of friendship, socializing with each other at dinners, parties or casual visits to each others homes. The fact that Joanna's mother, Elma Slade Chess, was born in Paris (1917) of American parents, where her family lived for approximately twelve years; and that the Chess family built the first contemporary house in the traditionally conservative town of Washington, Connecticut (neighboring the Calder's Roxbury home) were just two aspects that perhaps drew the families together.

    Mr. Bergson, Joanna's husband, recalls that her fondest and earliest memory of Sandy Calder was sitting on his knee, bouncing up and down, and remembering his gruff and grumbly voice and large hands. He continues, adding that Sandy Calder was like a grandfather to Joanna and in her adult life referred to him as a big, gentle bear of a man. Joanna was also very fond of Louisa Calder and admired her creativity as well, something that was somewhat overshadowed. Joanna felt a kindred spirit with Louisa, and later, she not only named her first cat after Louisa, but also found a huge passion in common interests, ranging from cooking, needlework, gardening and many more, oozing creativity in all aspects of her endeavors. Over the years Sandy gave to Joanna and her family pieces of jewelry, small and large mobiles and paintings. He made for Joanna her baby fork, a rare and intimate work reserved for the closest of friends, as well as several pieces of jewelry, a selection of which are illustrated in the following pages.

    The anchor of this unique collection of early works is Untitled, a hanging mobile that fully anticipates the artist's "Constellation" series. Each element is precisely weighted and shaped so as to produce a formal progression of scale and form, a didactic harmony. The success and beauty of this mobile, in all of it's serenity, is due in part to the artists early success with his whimsical wire portraits of Josephine Baker; the first of the artist's works to literally shiver and shake with the passing breeze. Marvelously, these magical and lighthearted caricatures advanced numerous compelling and new approaches to the construction and definition of modern sculpture. Though the wire portraits started as life studies they swiftly progressed into more enigmatic works as the subject of Calder's obsession changed from mimetics to abstraction after a prophetic encounter with Mondrian in 1930. A decade later, with a mature command over plasticity and allusion Calder crafted his Untitled mobile, a masterful work that casts line, color and form into the elements, setting into motion a microcosmic experience that finds order in its collaboration with nature.

    The Untitled mobile, stabile and jewelry that form this intimate collection are each unique and wholly autonomous works that carry with them a beautiful and rich provenance. Each work is animated with inherent joy and articulation that is Calder's hallmark; beauty and devotion are evident in surplus through the history and stewardship that coalesce in The Joanna Cook Chess Bergson Collection.