Home page

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

The Flame

Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
The Flame
signed with initials and dated 'CA 67' (on the largest element)
hanging mobile--painted sheet metal and wire
37 x 60 in. (94 x 152.4 cm.)
Executed in 1967.
Perls Galleries, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1968

Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A07435.

A fern-like succession of black metal fins suspended from the ceiling, each gently swaying in counterbalance with next, Alexander Calder's 1967 mobile The Flame, consists of a spine-like arrangement of form, two round black elements and a single shaped flash of red, the flame of the title. The Flame stretches five feet across, a significant expanse which echoes the sense of the huge scale on which Calder was working during this period of his career when he was often travelling in order to carry out important public commissions. During the 1960s, he primarily focussed on those larger projects, leaving him less time to create smaller-scale sculptures such as The Flame, which made such works a rare release for the artist: here, he could work on an intimate scale with materials which he himself shaped, rather than creating the larger maquettes from which his monumental sculptures were produced.

Calder's mobiles were revolutionary and influential: they incorporated movement; their emphatic materiality contrasted with their ethereal and ephemeral appearance, especially in the case of those that hang down from ceilings. Rather then being perched on the traditional pedestal, works such as The Flame appear suspended above us, permanently articulating flights of metal fancy. As Michel Ragon wrote, a few years before The Flame was created: "A Calder is a sort of chandelier, which like all chandeliers hangs from the ceiling, but which, in contrast to other chandeliers, is not used as a light fixture, but as a perch on which to rest our dreams" (M. Ragon, quoted in J. Baal-Teshuva, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, Cologne, 2002, p. 24).

That idea of the chandelier appears to have been taken up all the more literally in The Flame, with its burst of red, shaped in order to evoke a fire. The flame in this work is a rare, explicitly figurative element within a largely abstract composition. Calder often explained that his works took their inspiration from the movements of the planets, stars, and nebulae, with his mobiles resembling astrolabes and orreries charting unknown and impossible constellations of the mind; however, in The Flame, he has appended this bold beacon, which adds a dynamic flair to the motion of the mobile itself. Crucially, this use of red intensifies the impact of the mobile in general. Calder often maintained a deliberately and elegantly limited palette in order to heighten the tension between the colours: "I have chiefly limited myself to the use of black and white as being the most disparate colors. Red is the color most opposed to these, and then, finally, the other primaries" (A. Calder, quoted in J. Lipman, Calder's Universe, London, 1977, p. 33). In fact, in his mobiles, he often used black and red, perhaps intending to increase the contrast between his almost floating sculptures and the primarily white ceilings from which they hung.

More from Post-War Contemporary Evening Sale

View All
View All