Of all of Alexander Calder’s work, it was his jewelry that became most personal to the artist. Often created for close friends and acquaintances, it is regarded by some as the purest manifestation of his art. Each piece was individually designed and hand-made by the artist, offering unique pieces that not only contained a combination of his signature working practices but also displayed the same sense of artistic formality and sense of grace that is contained in his larger-scaled projects.
These examples from the collection of Nelson A. Rockefeller display this incredible dexterity through necklaces, bracelets and rings, each containing highly worked pieces of gleaming metal, a constant theme that ran throughout his jewelry practice. Within these works it appears in many different configurations, ranging from the complex to the deceptively simple.
Alexander Calder (1898-1976), Many V's. Silver wire. 9 1/2 x 10 in. (24.1 x 25.4 cm.) Executed circa 1940. Estimate: $150,000-200,000. This work is offered in our First Open/NYC sale on 30 September at Christie’s New York
In Many V’s, flat ribbons of silver wire are manipulated into a series of hanging adornments which shimmers in a dazzling dance of light. This sense of animation is also on display in Drop Bracelet — a delicate and complex construction of silver wire. Finally the delightful simplicity of Calder’s Ring displays the artist’s aesthetic vision on a much more intimate scale, as a sliver of silver wraps itself around the finger in an asp-like grip.
Alexander Calder (1898-1976), Drop Bracelet. Silver wire. 3 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 2 1/4 in. (7.9 x 6.9 x 5.7 cm.). Executed circa 1940. Estimate: $80,000-120,000. This work is offered in our First Open/NYC sale on 30 September at Christie’s New York
These exquisite works of Calder jewelry once belonged to the family of Nelson A. Rockefeller — public servant, philanthropist and art collector. The only son of the founder of the Standard Oil Company, Rockefeller was the 41st Vice President of the United States under Gerald Ford, and served four, four-year terms as 49th Governor of New York between 1959 and 1973.
Although he inherited a head for business from his father, he also possessed a keen eye for art which was inherited from his mother, Abigail Green ‘Abby’ Aldrich Rockefeller — the driving force behind the formation of the Museum of Modern Art. He maintained the family’s close connection with the Museum by serving as a trustee, treasurer and two terms as President between 1939 and 1941, and 1946 and 1953. Rockefeller was also closely involved with the 1933 scandal surrounding the commissioning of a large mural for his family’s eponymous building in the center of New York.
Alexander Calder (1898-1976), Ring. Silver wire. 2 3/4 x 2 1/4 in. (6.9 x 5.7 cm.). Executed circa 1941. Estimate: $30,000-40,000. This work is offered in our First Open/NYC sale on 30 September at Christie’s New York
Initially Nelson Rockefeller wanted Henri Matisse or Pablo Picasso to be given the commission, but neither artist was available. Instead he asked Diego Rivera, who submitted a sketch for a work entitled Man at the Crosswords Looking with Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a New and Better Future. This initial sketch included the figure of an unidentified man, but when the finished work was unveiled it included a painting of Lenin. The Directors of Rockefeller Center objected and Nelson Rockefeller asked Rivera to change the design, but the artist refused. After much wrangling (including an offer to the Museum of Modern Art to house it there) the mural was eventually destroyed by workmen in the early part of 1934.
Alexander Calder (1898-1976), Untitled (Cape Clasp). Silver wire, 3 1/2 x 11 in. (8.8 x 27.9 cm.) Executed circa 1936. Estimate: $30,000-40,000. This work is offered in our First Open/NYC sale on 30 September at Christie’s New York
Rockefeller also built his own collection of both modern and non-Western art, which he displayed at his Kykuit country home in New York’s Hudson Valley. He took a hands-on approach to his own collection, often personally supervising the placement of works and frequently moving the larger pieces from place to place by helicopter.
His early visits to Mexico prompted a lifelong interest in pre-Colombian and contemporary Mexican art, to which he later added works of traditional African and Pacific Island art. This collection formed the basis of his Museum of Primitive Art which he opened to the public in 1957, before merging it with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1969, following through with his lifelong wish that wanted to share the joy of living with his collection with as many people as possible.
Alexander Calder (1898-1976), Bracelet. Silver wire. 6 x 3 1/4 x 2 1/8 in. (15.2 x 8.2 x 5.4 cm.). Executed circa 1960. Estimate: $70,000-100,000. This work is offered in our First Open/NYC sale on 30 September at Christie’s New York
For more on the sales, visit First Open. For more features, interviews and videos, visit Christie’s Daily.
© 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.