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

Le Rouge de Saché

Details
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Le Rouge de Saché
hanging mobile--painted sheet metal and wire
84 x 150 x 21 in. (213.4 x 381 x 53.3 cm.)
Executed in 1954.
Provenance
Galerie Maeght, Paris
Bo Bousted, Stockholm
Galerie Beyeler, Basel, 1970
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1971
Exhibited
Paris, Galerie Maeght, Aix.Saché.Roxbury 1953-1954, November-December 1954, no. 12.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Bewogen-Beweging, March-April 1961.
Basel, Fondation Beyeler, The Other Collection: Homage to Ernst and Hildy Beyeler, August 2007-January 2008, pp. 214-215 (illustrated in color).
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Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under the application number A13259.

This striking and magnificently proportioned red mobile was executed in 1954, the year Alexander Calder moved to Saché in France and the year which marked the beginning of what is widely regarded as one of the most important periods of the artist's career. The post-war years were characterized by what Calder described as an "agrandissement" of his work, spurred on in part by the increasing number of commissions for his large-scale outdoor sculptures that had begun to populate public spaces across Europe. Yet, despite the increase in scale and the attendant technical demands of its production, the excitement he captured in the color and movement of his mobiles never left him, and the elegant proportions of Le Rouge de Saché embody the sense of grace and dynamism contained in the very best examples of Calder's iconic works.

Suspended in mid-air, the constellation of enigmatic shapes and motifs hovers in the air like a aggregation of creatures soaring on thermals of hot summer air. With remarkable deftness, Calder places these objects on different visual planes-some arranged vertically and some arranged horizontally-enabling the work's form to constantly change depending on the perspective from which it is viewed or the environment in which it is placed. The graceful contours of these suspended forms recall the silhouettes of summer swallows soaring through the sky or beautiful butterflies dancing in the air, yet Calder's skillful structure allows each piece to retain its inherent delineation while at the same time sustaining a harmonious sense of unity. Even the largest of the elements, which the artist used to maintain the physical balance of the overall work, retain a sense of lightness through the deft insertion of voids between these elements, creating the overall visual and physical agility that characterizes his best work.
The title Le Rouge de Saché is Calder's poetic reference to the red wine produced in the town of Saché, close to where he lived. On the occasions that the artist did title works he often used tropes or puns, particularly in his French titles, to reference aspects of the work-in this case the connection between the color of the local wine and the color of the mobile. The work was to be included in what would become an important show for Calder, Aix Saché Roxbury at the Galerie Maeght in Paris, and the artist was excited at being given this opportunity and his titles at this time often reflected his enthusiasm for both the French language and culture.

In addition to the sense of movement, the other defining feature of this work is Calder's use of color. The vibrant, fiery red that he selected for Le Rouge de Saché is among the artist's most powerful, used in many of his significant dramatic sculptures. Although resolutely non-representational, his choice of color was inextricably linked to the overall sense of dynamism with which Calder's mobiles are often first identified. Calder recalls being "shocked" into abstraction by his visit in 1930 to Piet Mondrian's studio in Paris. There he also intuited a dissatisfaction with the elder master's static fields of color and resolved that they could be animated. Mondrian disagreed and subsequently would come to claim that his paintings were faster than Calder's mobiles. Yet, looking at the bold red of Le Rouge de Saché with its various fins and forms in flight, one can still sense the reverberations of that early color-driven epiphany. Calder would later explain that after movement, color was the most important element in his compositions: "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, quoted in H.H. Arnason and U. Mulas, Calder, London, 1971, p. 69).

Le Rouge de Saché was created during a particularly significant period in the artist's career. After spending decades working on smaller mobiles, the artist came to prefer working on large-scale projects (his self-described period of agrandissements), perhaps interested in part by the particular challenges that works on this scale possessed, but also because he felt these large-scale installations, commissioned by municipalities across the world during the post-war reconstruction boom, and the mainstay of Calder's output at this time, would be seen by a larger audience. Despite being kept busy by this series of stabiles he continued to indulge in what interested him most-his mobiles-and works such as Le Rouge de Saché reveal the particular challenges of working on pieces of this scale, as he once said: "It's true I've more or less retired from the smaller mobiles. I regard them as sort of fiddling. The engineering on the big projects is important" (A. Calder, quoted in M. Prather, Alexander Calder 1898-1976, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998, p. 279).

The radical visual language of Calder's artistic vocabulary contained within works such as Le Rouge de Saché cannot be underestimated. While space, movement, and color had been explored by Constructivists such as László Maholy Nagy as early as the 1920s and taken up in earnest by the international collective Madí in Paris in the 1940s, Calder's particular vision was later championed by no less a modernist than Amié Maeght, who in 1954 mounted the artist's critically acclaimed show Aix Saché Roxbury at his Galerie Maeght in Paris. From that exhibition, Le Rouge de Saché entered the private collection of the renowned Scandinavian architect and sculpture collector, Bo Bousted. When in 1952 Calder represented the United States at the Venice Biennale, the critic Jerome Mellquist commented on what must have attracted both Maeght and Bousted: "Calder's work articulates a language suited to our century, not merely an American dialect, but a vital new speech involving the fresh use of industrial materials" (J. Mellquist, "Venice Biennale, 1952: Seeing a United Nations of Art," Art Digest, Vol. 26, no. 19, August 1952, p. 8).

Like much of his most significant work, Le Rouge de Saché combines aesthetic beauty and architectonic fascination. Its chromatic simplicity is set off by the complexity of its structure. That Calder was able to create such an object of extreme grace and elegance out of dense metal is a clear demonstration of both his aesthetic vision and engineering prowess. This work contains within its parameters the very best qualities of Calder's mobiles: powerful yet graceful, colorful yet ordered, with the elegant proportions that ensure such works always controls their inhabited spaces. Yet ultimately, Le Rouge de Saché reflects the joy Calder found in his art and the happiness it gave to others. As he once commented, "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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