Alexander Calder - Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I New York Tuesday, November 14, 2023 | Phillips

    “Just as one can compose colors, or forms, so one can compose motions.”
    —Alexander Calder

    In 1910, when Alexander Calder was 11 years old, the French aviator Louis Blériot completed the first flight over the English Channel, piloting his sleek “Blériot XI” monoplane for the 36-and-a-half-minute journey. Winning a prize of £1,000 offered by the Daily Mail newspaper for doing so, Blériot became an overnight celebrity and is today remembered as a pioneer in the early era of aviation, a European counterpart to the Wright Brothers in America. Calder was long captivated by the heroism and enterprise of early flight: while in Paris in 1927, the artist rushed to Le Bourget with friends to cheer “L’aviateur!” as Charles Lindbergh landed the first solo transatlantic flight.Circa 1949–1950, as propellers were becoming replaced by ultra-powerful jet engines, Calder executed two of his iconic floating “mobiles”—The Blériot and New Blériot—in reminiscence of the early days of air travel. Composed of rods that demarcate rows of squares and emulate the open-box structure of the Blériot XI, they embody the nostalgia and optimism that aviation history represented for Calder and his peers.


    Blériot’s incredulous achievement sent shock waves across the world, ushering in a new age marked by innovation, freedom, and promise. “Great Britain is no longer an island,” a sensationalist headline from The Daily Express exclaimed in the wake of his flight; the Blériot XI was immediately hurried to London and put on public display at Selfridges department store. The ambitious aspirations of modern technology galvanized several of the 20th century’s leadings artists, including Calder, to develop their own responses to the new era symbolized by Blériot’s groundbreaking invention. In his landmark 1913 text The Cubist Painters, Guillaume Apollinaire suggested that only “an artist as free of aesthetic considerations and as concerned with energy as Marcel Duchamp” could rival Blériot’s triumph.ii The following year, Robert Delaunay painted his own Hommage à Blériot, 1914, Kunstmuseum Basel, a kaleidoscope of color that captured the Parisians’ enthusiasm following the trailblazing Channel crossing. Six years after Calder’s New Blériot was executed, Joseph Cornell dedicated two of his shadowboxes to the French engineer, including the enigmatic Untitled (Homage to Blériot), 1956, Art Institute of Chicago.


    Robert Delaunay, Hommage à Blériot, 1914. Kunstmuseum Basel. Image: Kunstmuseum Basel

    One affinity Calder sensed between his process and that of Blériot may have been their experimentation with industrial materials, which took place in metal-filled workshops more closely suited to the needs of an amateur aviation engineer than any fellow artist. “There is a resemblance between Calder’s procedure and that of the Wright brothers,” for example, the art critic and writer Selden Rodman recalled of a visit to the sculptor’s studio in the 1950s. “...This was no studio such as sculptors and traditionally worked in throughout the ages. No casts, no marble, no plaster, no armatures. Not a bicycle shop, to be sure, but certainly a machine shop. The floor was deep in steel shavings, wire, nuts and bolts, punched sheet metal. The benches sagged under lathes and power saws. The air was busy with dangling ‘contraptions,’ such as the brothers in Dayton used to call their experimental warped airfoils and rudimentary engines.”iii The rods, wires, and flattened sheet metal used in New Blériot are not dissimilar materials to those the Wright brothers and their French peer employed for their monoplanes.


    Marcel Duchamp, Airplane (Aéroplane), 1912. The Menil Collection, Houston. Image: akg-images, Artwork: © 2023 Association Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    “But more significantly, I thought,” Rodman continued, “the Wrights too were in love with simplicity, with perfection of motion and economy of means. They began and ended their work as artists. Gliding and work with kites came naturally to them. They appropriated a small motor and attached it to their wings; but the motor was an afterthought...” This focus on the mechanics of motion—not mechanization—is palpable throughout Calder’s corpus, surfacing in his first mobile as early as 1932. Despite its seemingly whimsical and weightless character, the construction of New Blériot required a remarkable degree of precision: the pieces of sheet metal, suspended only by a thin wire, are held in a precarious and ever-shifting balance by air currents and forces of gravity. The artful elegance of both Calder’s sculptures and early airplanes were achieved by capturing the harmony as well as the tension innate in the natural world and its forms.


    The Blériot XI, 1909. Image: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C. 

    The kinetic achievements of New Blériot suggest Calder’s beginnings in mathematics and science, which saw the mechanical engineering graduate work as a draughtsman and hydraulic designer for New York Edison as a young man. Considering the work’s weighty yet airborne quality that seemingly betrays the laws of physics, it is perhaps fitting that it was first exhibited in a seminal solo show at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge—the university that spearheaded America’s first aeronautical engineering course. Hovering in the air, the white and black circles appear as a set of back and front wheels, while the kite-shaped black form and red airfoil element resemble a propeller and tailwing. It is the graceful motion of the mobile, however, that echoes the work’s namesake more than any precise figurative reference. According to Calder’s friend Robert Osborn, the artist evoked the early aviation pioneers such as the Wright Brothers in his “engineering care and assurance—they and Calder would have understood one another. Their approach was quite the same... There was an incredible integrity about the way he put works together, with the joining of parts so masterly and well‐conceived.”iv



    David Bourdon, Calder: Mobilist, Ringmaster, Innovator, New York, 1980, p. 29.

    ii Guillaume Apollinaire, The Cubist Painters, trans. Peter Read, Berkeley, 2004, p. 75.

    iii Selden Rodman, “Alexander Calder,” Conversations with Artists, New York, 1957.

    iv Grace Glueck, “Friends of Calder Honor Him As Loving, Happy ‘Bear of a Man,’” The New York Times, December 8, 1976, p. 106.

    • Description

      Please see main sale page for guarantee notice

    • Provenance

      Carlos Raúl Villanueva, Caracas (acquired directly from the artist in 1955)
      Margot Villanueva, Caracas (by descent from the above)
      Galerie Hopkins-Custot, Paris (acquired from the above)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007

    • Exhibited

      Cambridge, New Gallery, Charles Hayden Memorial Library, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Calder, December 5, 1950–January 14, 1951
      Houston, Contemporary Art Museum, Calder–Miró, October 14–November 4, 1951, no. 20, p. 17
      New York, Curt Valentin Gallery, Alexander Calder: Gongs and Towers, January 15–February 10, 1952, no. 5, n.p.
      Caracas, Museo de Bellas Artes, Calder, September 11–25, 1955, no. 30
      Caracas, Sala de Exposiciones Fundación Eugenio Mendoza, Calder en Venezuela, July 8–August 3, 1969, no. 19, p. 41 (illustrated)
      Caracas, Museo de Bellas Artes, Las Colecciones Privadas en Venezuela 7: 57 obras de la colección Carlos Raúl Villanueva, 1972, no. 13, n.p. (dated 1949)
      Caracas, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Sofía Imber, Villanueva El Arquitecto, 1988–1989
      The Hague, Gemeentemuseum (on long term loan, 2012–2014)
      The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, Alexander Calder: De grote ontdekking, February 11–May 28, 2012, pp. 210-211, 252 (illustrated, p. 211)
      Düsseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Alexander Calder– Avant-Garde in Motion, September 7, 2013–January 12, 2014, no. 62, p. 74 (illustrated)
      Riehen/Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Alexander Calder & Fischli/ Weiss, May 29–September 4, 2016, no. 74, pp. 194, 266 (illustrated, p. 194)
      The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, From Rodin to Bourgeois: Sculpture in the 20th Century, October 15, 2016–January 22, 2017, pp. 129, 265 (illustrated)
      Rotterdam, Kunsthal, Avant-Gardes 1870 to the Present: The Collection of the Triton Foundation, October 7, 2012–January 20, 2013, pp. 522, 523, 541 (illustrated, p. 523)

    • Literature

      Virginia Evans, “Calder,” America Illustrated, vol. I, 1957, pp. 20-23 (illustrated, p. 22)
      Paulina Villanueva and Paolo Gasparini, Villanueva en tres casas, Caracas, 2000, n.p. (illustrated)
      A Modern Definition of Space: Calder Sculpture, exh. cat., Van de Weghe Fine Art, New York, 2003, p. 83 (New Gallery, Cambridge, 1950, installation view partially illustrated)
      Calder: The Forties, exh. cat., Thomas Dane Gallery, London, 2005, p. 36 (New Gallery, Cambridge, 1950, installation view illustrated)
      Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 2015, p. 23 (New Gallery, Cambridge, 1950, installation view partially illustrated)

    • 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.

      View More Works



New Blériot

sheet metal, wire, rod and paint
46 1/2 x 50 x 11 in. (118.1 x 127 x 27.9 cm)
Executed circa 1950, this work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A09320.

Full Cataloguing

$3,000,000 - 5,000,000 

Sold for $3,206,000

Contact Specialist

Carolyn Kolberg
Associate Specialist, Head of Sale
+1 212 940 1206

Living the Avant-Garde: The Triton Collection Foundation, Evening Sale Part I

New York Auction 14 November 2023