This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A00529.
Gypsophila II is an extraordinary work which Alexander Calder created during a pivotal decade of personal and artistic exploration. Calder's unique contribution to Modernism and Surrealism in the 1930s has been written about at length, as has the evolution of his forms throughout the 1940s. By the beginning of the 1950s, when the present work was made, Calder was the most internationally known American artist and on the cusp of a decade of transformation in his work.
As a result of World War II, Calder and his family lived in America for most of the 1940s. During this time, audiences witnessed the evolution of his forms in such master works as Giraffe (circa 1941) and Bougainvillea (1947). His retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1943 was curated by James Johnson Sweeney and Marcel Duchamp, and in 1946 he had an exhibition at the Right Bank Galerie Louis Carré in Paris, which was accompanied by a catalogue whose introduction was written by Jean-Paul Sartre. 1950 itself was a pivotal year: Calder exhibited his work at Galerie Maeght in Paris for the first time as well as at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and he was honored with a retrospective at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In a rapidly globalizing post-war world, one in which the balance of power would shift from Europe to America, artists and intellectuals debated abstraction and figuration, and in particular the manner to best express alienation, authenticity, and freedom. Calder engaged in this dialogue, making human-scale work that seemed to embody natural forces of movement and stasis, weight and balance, wind and chance. Periodically Calder used language as well, as the Dadaists and Surrealists had, to add humor or an absurdist sensibility to the work as well as provide a suggestive or surprising entry point for the viewer.
Sartre noted in his 1946 catalogue introduction that a mobile by Calder was:
"a little local merry-making, an object defined by its movement and which does not exist outside of it, a flower which withers as soon as it is stopped, a pure play of movement, just as there are pure plays of light. . . . For each one of them Calder establishes a general career of movement and then he abandons it; it is the time of day, the sunshine, the heat, the wind which will determine each individual dance. Thus, the object remains always midway between the slavishness of the statue and the independence of natural occurrences; each of its evolutions is an inspiration of the moment; one distinguishes in it the theme composed by its author, but it embroiders on that a thousand personal variations; it is a little jazz tune, unique and ephemeral, like the sky, like the morning; if you have missed it, you have lost it forever" (J.-P. Sartre quoted in J. J. Sweeney, Calder, New York, 1951, pp. 64-66).
Gypsophila II is just such a "flower" in Sartre's words. Gypsophilia's common name is baby's breath, which is composed of clusters of tiny, double flowers that bloom on branching stems three to four feet tall. The present mobile comprises two "branches" of circular elements that range in size. The uniformity of the cut metal shapes and the monochromatic white paint lend it a delicate feel, belying the intricate construction of the piece. From a central horizontal rod, the two branches extend; one with nine dainty elements reaches horizontally, while the other descends vertically and holds fifteen similarly delicate elements. As an abstract composition, the mobile is breathtaking, but its title spurs an additional emotional or associative level of interpretation.
Calder made seven works between 1949-1951 that bear the name Gypsophila. Only two of these seven works are hanging mobiles; five are standing mobiles. All of the sculptures feature cascades of white disks of various sizes and their exquisite, delicate movement is characteristic of the entire series.
Calder was often drawn to floral names-the aforementioned Bougainvillier as well as the Sumac series, also from the early 1950s, for which the artist abstracted the sumac bush's fiery red leaves and bud-shaped berries into biomorphic shapes that similarly descend in two directions. The allusion to the natural form of a flower spurs the viewer to compare the rhythms of the mobile's moving elements to what Sweeney called the "rhythms of nature: waves lapping a beach, the flight of clouds, the movement of branches and fluttering of leaves" (J. J. Sweeney, Ibid, p. 69).