Alexander Calder (1898-1976)

With a career that spans the 20th Century, Alexander Calder developed a new, innovative and influential method of sculpting. By bending and twisting wire, he essentially ‘drew’ three-dimensional figures in space.


Born in Pennsylvania in 1898 into a family of artists, Calder was surrounded by art from an early age. He graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1919, before attending the Art Students League in New York, where he studied under Thomas Hart Benton and others. In 1926, Calder travelled to Paris where he enrolled at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. It was here that he befriended Joan Miró, an artist who would become a lifelong friend. Creating with wood and wire sculptures, it was at this time that he made his breakthrough piece, Cirque Calder, a unique and complex work that launched his reputation within the avant-garde circles of the Parisian art world.

In 1930, Calder met Mondrian and subsequently began to embrace abstraction. At this time he created the first of his renowned ‘mobile’ sculptures (given the name ‘Mobiles’ by Marcel Duchamp), whose suspended, abstract elements move and balance in changing harmony. These were followed by static, freestanding sculptures, termed ‘Stabiles’ by Jean Arp.


Bridging the gap between Surrealism and Constructivism, Calder’s sculpture combines the sensibility of the international artistic avant-garde with the authentic naivety of an American artist. As James Johnson Sweeney pointed out, Calder was a genuinely American artist, embodying a combination of perceptiveness and curiosity together with roughness and strength. His style is pure joie de vivre, sensibility, and beauty.


In 1933, Calder returned to the United States and settled in Roxbury, Connecticut. During the 1950s, he solidified his status as one of the leading artists of his generation, with a series of exhibitions and retrospectives held across Europe and the United States. Calder also devoted himself to making outdoor sculpture on a grand scale from bolted sheet steel. Among his many international commissions were those for the New York Port Authority (1957), UNESCO in Paris (1958) and, in 1969, the first public artwork funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.


Today, Calder’s works reside in permanent collections across the world, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia; Pompidou Center, Paris, and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid.