This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A04654.
Alexander Calder's Gypsophila on Black Skirt, executed in 1950, presents the viewer with a gently oscillating, fern-like progression of diminishing white discs. Suspended by thin wires, the delicate discs hover, balancing, on the skirt-like base that the work's title implies. Gypsophila, after which this work is named, is a delicate flower commonly known in the United States as "Baby's Breath" which often has a succession of small white flowers. When Gypsophila on Black Skirt moves, the viewer gains a sense of a flower gently waving in the breeze; perhaps the skirt-like base hints at a certain human element at play.
Gypsophila on Black Skirt was created during a year of great travels for Calder, who spent some of 1950 in Paris before embarking on a prolonged tour of Scandinavia and other parts of northern Europe. He returned to the United States, where he intended to assist James Johnson Sweeney in the preparation of a retrospective at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (in the end, Calder was injured in a car accident and Sweeney installed it himself). Calder was enjoying increasing international acclaim during this period, and creating commissions for a range of clients and institutions. He was enjoying more and more frequent shows, as is reflected in the early exhibition history of this work. In fact, only a few years before Gypsophila on Black Skirt was executed, the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre visited Calder's studio, and was enchanted by the world of poetry and whimsy that the artist had created. Writing an essay on Calder, Sartre explained the Mobiles in terms that are perfectly demonstrated by Gypsophila on Black Skirt:
The "mobiles," which are neither wholly alive nor wholly mechanical, and which always eventually return to their original form, may be likened to water grasses in the changing currents, or to the petals of the sensitive plant, or to gossamer caught in an updraft. In short, although "mobiles" do not seek to imitate anything because they do not "seek" any end whatever, unless it be to create scales and chords of hitherto unknown movements - they are nevertheless at once lyrical inventions, technical combinations of an almost mathematical quality, and sensitive symbols of Nature (J.P. Sartre, "The Mobiles of Calder," Alexander Calder, exh. cat., New York, 1947).