Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 2… Read more PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF IRVING AND CHARLOTTE RABB
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

Petits disques blancs (Small White Discs)

Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Petits disques blancs (Small White Discs)
standing mobile: painted sheet metal and wire
33 x 38 x 27in. (83.8 x 96.5 x 68.6cm.)
Executed in 1953
Galerie Maeght, Paris.
The Pace Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in 1968).
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1971.
Alexander Calder: 1898-1976, exh. cat., Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art, 1998, fig. 52 (illustrated, p. 287).
Alexander Calder Motion and Color, Iwaki City, Iwaki City Art Museum, 2000 (illustrated, pp. 127 and 167).
Paris, Galerie Maeght, Aix. Sache. Roxbury 1953-1954, 1954, no. 14.
Geneva, Galerie Jan Krugier & Cie, Alexander Calder, 1966, no. 40 (illustrated, pl. 21; titled Blanc en biais).
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Please note this work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A02868 and not as stated in the catalogue.

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Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A02868.

Floating in mid-air like a delicate flurry of snowflakes, the small white disks that hover enchantingly in Alexander Calder's Petits disques blanc are a magical example of his love of the natural world and his ability to translate these organic forms into mezmerizing sculptures that reverberated with visual delight and grace. Although at this stage of his career Calder was firmly established as one of the most pioneering and groundbreaking artists of his generation and had attained both considerable critical and commercial success, works such as Petits disques blanc demonstrates that he had lost none of his eye for innovation nor his ability to capture aspects of nature and successfully translate them into exquisite sculptural forms. His move to France in 1953, the year the present work was executed, resulted in a renewed burst of creativity for Calder and his new life in the Loire Valley resulted in some of the most stunning and aesthetically poetic works of his career. Having remained in the same private collection for nearly half a century Petits disques blanc demonstrates that Calder had lost none of his ability to create beautifully composed works that project a graceful sense of beauty, poetry and even wonderment.

Carefully balanced on top of a fiery serpentine form, Calder's Petits disques blanc is crowned with a halo of gently floating white disks. This expansive population of gently moving organic forms orbit a central axis and spring into life by the merest breath of wind. Calder's technical skill (he initially trained as an engineer after leaving school) ensures that these formations move effortlessly around their access as if marshaled by a master choreographer in an exquisite ballet of graceful proportions. The small white spheres that are the central feature of this work were an important feature of Calder's repertoire during the late 1940s and early 1950s. These organic forms reminded him of his native East Coast of America -the frequent snow flurries of a New England winter or the hanging flowers of the Aspen tree which flourished there, along with the delicate lines recalling blades of grass or the stems of flowers shooting up towards the sky. As with all of Calder's standing mobiles, he makes the sculpture's base integral to its composition, its delicate fiery red form reaching down from the composition's centre like the root of a plant or a tree trunk descending into the earth. Calder employed a palette of black, white and red, typical of his work from this period, as he favored using dramatically disparate colours to enhance a work's structural and formal clarity, and enhance the kinetic relationships between its compositional elements.

Calder's use of colour is one of the defining features of his sculpture, and the visual purity of the white discs punctured by the vibrancy of the scarlet red central form of Petits disques blanc is a clear demonstration of this love of, and aesthetic understanding of, colour. Ever since a visit to the studio of Piet Mondrian in 1930 Calder had been fascinated by the powerful aesthetic possibilities of colour. In Petits disques blanc, his combination of pure white and vibrant scarlet enhances the dramatic effect to the work's graceful movement. By bringing together two colours of dramatically differing values Calder replicates to some degree the revolutionary use of colour pioneered by his Fauvist heroes, 'I want things to be differentiated. Black and white are first-then red is next...Its really just for differentiation, but I love red so much that I almost want to paint everything red. I often wish that I'd been a fauve in 1905' (A. Calder, Calder, London 2004, p. 89).

Petits disques blanc is an exceptional example of the delicate and intricate works that Calder continued to make during a period which became increasingly dominated by larger, monumental pieces of outdoor sculpture. 1953 was a busy time for the artist; the previous year he had represented the United States at the Venice Biennale where he won the grand prize for sculpture. This recognition launched his enormous Post-War international career and during the period of large-scale urban regeneration that followed the destruction of the Second World War, Calder's iconic monumental sculpture became much in demand as city-planners sought to rejuvenate civic spaces across Europe. Although these commissions led to a general aggrandisement of his work, Calder never lost his passion for the physical contact with his materials, and despite the pressures put on him by these international commissions he continued to make intimate works such as the present work to ensure that he remained directly in touch with the artistic process that he loved so much.

Calder executed Petits disques blanc during his prime. Comfortable and yet still challenged by the mobiles that he invented, he uses colour, form and balance to create a piece whose delicate execution belies its complex and masterful construction. Having remained in private hands for nearly half a century, Petits disques blanc is an elegant example of the artist at the very height of his skills, forming a direct relationship with both the viewer and its environment. Its elements come alive with the merest hint of a breeze and its carefully balanced elements spring into life, introducing the magical element of chance and movement that makes Calder's sculptures so captivating. As the artist himself said, 'When everything goes right a mobile is a piece of poetry that dances with the joy of life and surprises' (A. Calder, Calder, London 2004, p. 261).

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