Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
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Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

The Whiffletree

Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
The Whiffletree
signed with monogram 'CA' (on the largest red element)
standing mobile--painted sheet metal and wire
80 x 52 x 42 in. (203.2 x 132.1 x 106.7 cm.)
Executed circa 1936.
Perls Galleries, New York
Dayton's Gallery, Minneapolis
B. C. Holland, Inc., Chicago
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1969
Arts and Crafts Club of New Orleans, Alexander Calder: Mobiles/Jewelry and Fernand Léger: Gouaches/Drawings, March-April 1941.
Minneapolis, Dayton's Gallery 12, Calder, April-May 1968, p. 2 (illustrated).
New York, Gimpel Fils, Alexander Calder: Standing Mobiles, February 1969 (illustrated).
Special notice
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Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A07743.

Alexander Calder's The Whiffletree circa 1936, towering at over six feet tall, is a powerfully evocative and successful example of the artist's "Stabile" sculptures, the combination of a mobile crown with a freestanding base, a theme that he pursued throughout his career. This work is titled after a tool ubiquitous in rural Northeastern America, a device used to harness an ox to a pull cart. Calder's Whiffletree does not literally harness a beast to it's burden but rather poetically harnesses a magical interpretation of our solar system to the a priori reality of solid earth. It could be argued that all of Calder's stabiles retain elements of The Whiffletree at a practical and metaphorical level, as the device connecting man to his creation and, even more to his imagination. Nine circular discs crown the upper element of the stabile, animating a circus-like recreation of the nine planets in our solar system orbiting a balanced center. Like many of Calders early assemblages and mobiles of the thirties Calder essentializes and imbues form, color and shape with an inspired movement unprecedented in the world of sculpture.

Alexander Calder's first visit to the studio of Piet Mondrian in 1933 jump-started the mature career of an artist whose whimsical creations are justly famous. Calder describes this event in his own words: "this visit gave me a shock. A bigger shock, even, than eight years earlier, when off Guatemala I saw the beginning of a fiery red sunrise on one side and the moon looking like a silver coin on the other. This one visit gave me a shock that started things" (A. Calder, quoted in H.H. Arnason, Calder, New York, 1971, p. 71).

During this visit Calder suggested to Mondrian "that perhaps it would be fun to make these rectangles oscillate." Mondrian answered emphatically "No, it is not necessary, my painting is already fast" (quoted in Ibid, p. 71).

It was perhaps this singular experience in Mondrian's studio that solidified Calder's desire to be an "artist" and not merely a commercial illustrator or entertainer. The expressive possibilities of a sublimated, modern, non-referential language, built on the basic principals of design captivated the artist's innate sense of creativity and joy. With unrelenting energy and wonder, Calder took the advice he had offered casually to Mondrian, and began his exploration of form in a truly modern sense. Calder successfully altered conventional notions of sculptural form forever, asserting celestial balance and movement in his works, blending drama and subtlety, providing an unparalleled aesthetic experience.

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