Alexander Calder - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Sunday, November 28, 2021 | Phillips
  • “Above all, art should be fun.” — Alexander Calder

    The playful mobiles and stabiles of American sculptor Alexander Calder are icons of art history. With their graceful arching forms, dynamic surfaces and biomorphic imagery, many painted in his famous ‘Calder red’, yellow and blue, Calder’s works are commonly described as evoking an entrancing childlike joy in viewers.


    An inveterate innovator and creator, an 11 year-old Calder sculpted his first creations out of sheet brass as presents for his parents - a dog and a duck, which rocked when gently tapped. Born into a family of artists, he was dissuaded from a career in art, and initially trained as a mechanical engineer. He decided to pursue his artistic calling, and moved to Paris in 1926, where his work gained widespread acclaim. Calder became a fully-fledged member of the European avant-garde, befriending a number of artists including Marcel Duchamp, who in 1931 after a visit to Calder’s studio christened his motor-powered movable sculptures mobiles (a French pun meaning both ‘motion’ and ‘motive’), and Jean Arp, who in 1932 playfully dubbed Calder’s static standing sculptures stabiles. Pivoting towards abstraction after a pivotal visit to Piet Mondrian’s studio, and an ardent admirer of Surrealism (in particular the works of friend and fellow artist Joan Miró) Calder fully embraced the Surrealist notion of integrating chance into his works, whilst adopting Surrealism’s affinity for curvilinear, biomorphic forms into his sculptures.

    “If you can imagine a thing, conjure it up in space then you can make it... The universe is real but you can't see it. You have to imagine it. Then you can be realistic about reproducing it.” — Alexander Calder

    Calder depicted with Old Bull (1930) at his studio at 7 Villa Brune, Paris in November 1930. Created with sheet brass and steel rod, the work is now in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
    Photograph: Therese Bonney
    © 2021 Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 


    Post World War II, Calder began to cut shapes from sheet metal into evocative forms and hand-paint them in his characteristic pure hues of red, black, blue and white. By the time he created The Red Bull in 1973, Calder was an international star. The bull was a motif Calder returned to time and time again during his career (see for example Old Bull (1930)), and before moving to Paris he had published a drawing manual entitled Animal Sketching, featuring 18 sketches of cows grazing, sitting, swishing tails, and feeding calves. A favoured motif of the Surrealists, bulls symbolised virility and hard work and were often used as a metaphor for the artist himself, portrayed by artists from Miró to Picasso.


    The Red Bull was executed in Calder’s preferred medium of sheet metal. Even at this stage in his career, he preferred to work the material directly with his hands, cutting and shaping the metal with a hammer, then assembling it piece by piece - an approach that his friend, the veteran museum director James Johnson Sweeney described as ‘fostering a simplicity of form and clarity of contour in his work. It allies him with Brancusi, Arp, Moore and Giacometti in their repudiation of virtuosity’.i The sculpture is finished in ‘Calder Red’, the characteristic matte vermilion hue adored and used by the artist for parts or the whole of his stabiles (the artist himself owned two wool shirts in the colour, which he wore to all occasions instead of a suit).ii

    I love red so much that I almost want to paint everything red. I often wish that I'd been a fauve in 1905” — Alexander Calder

    The artist dressed in ‘Calder Red’, with his work
    © 2021 Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 


    The Red Bull’s sister work, Blue and Red Bull with Yellow Head (1971), is currently held in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C, and was formerly in the collection of the great American philanthropist Paul Mellon. Today Calder’s sculptures form part of distinguished museum collections including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. His monumental stabile sculptures can be seen in prominent public  across the world - UNESCO in Paris, JFK Airport in New York, Sears Tower in Chicago, to name a few.



    Alexander Calder, Blue and Red Bull with Yellow Head, 1971
    Collection of National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
    © 2021 Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 



    James Johnson Sweeney, Alexander Calder, exh. cat., New York, 1951, reproduced in C. Giménez & A.S.C. Rower (ed.), Calder: Gravity and Grace, London, 2004, p. 72

    ii Alexander Calder, quoted in K. Kuh, The Artist's Voice: Talks with Seventeen Artists, New York, 2000, p. 41

    • Provenance

      Estate of the Artist
      M. Knoedler & Co., New York
      Private Collection, Toronto (acquired from the above in 1980)
      Perls Galleries, New York
      Quintana Fine Art, New York
      Gerald Peters Gallery, New York
      Private Collection, Virginia (acquired from the above in 1997)
      Freeman's, Philadelphia, 12 May 2012, lot 103
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      Alexander Calder

      American • 1898 - 1976

      Alexander Calder worked as an abstract sculptor and has been commonly referred to as the creator of the mobile. He employed industrious materials of wire and metal and transformed them into delicate geometric shapes that respond to the wind or float in air. Born into a family of sculptors, Calder created art from childhood and moved to Paris in 1926, where he became a pioneer of the international avant-garde. In addition to his mobiles, Calder produced an array of public constructions worldwide as well as drawings and paintings that feature the same brand of abstraction. Calder was born in Lawnton, Pennsylvania.

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The Red Bull

incised with the artist's monogram and dated "CA 73" on the reverse
sheet metal and paint
98.4 x 79.4 x 37.5 cm. (38 3/4 x 31 1/4 x 14 3/4 in.)
Executed in 1973, this work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A02185.

Full Cataloguing

HK$3,800,000 - 4,500,000 

Sold for HK$4,284,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2027

20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 29 November 2021