Cape clasp

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  • Condition Report

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  • Provenance

    Perls Galleries, New York
    Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1968
    Mary Rockefeller Morgan, New York, 1970s

  • Exhibited

    "Alexander Calder," Akademie der Kunst, Berlin, May 21-July 16, 1967

  • Literature

    Herta Elisabeth Killy, Alexander Calder, exh. cat., Akademie der Künst, Berlin, 1967, illustrated p. 98

  • Catalogue Essay

    The present lot is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A16326.


    Title: Precious Metalwork: Alexander Calder’s Jewelry

    Created at the height of Alexander Calder’s recognition, when his designs adorned the fashionable intelligentsia of Europe and the United States, Calder’s delicate Cape Clasp and Six Circles brooch are paradigmatic of the artist’s ability to yield a universal, abstract lexicon within intimate objects of wearable art. Delicately hand crafted, each unique piece adds another dimension to the cerebral experience of Calder’s work, allowing for a tangible, portable, and highly personal level of engagement. It is in these exquisite works, where the artist delicately hammered radiant planes of silver and brass into elegantly undulating forms, that we see Calder forming a direct relationship with his patrons, both past and present.

    Born in 1898 to the painter Nanette Lederer Calder and the sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder, the young Calder used beads and left over copper wire to create jewelry for his sister’s dolls. As he grew, Calder nurtured his interests in physics and construction, graduating from Stevens Institute of Technology with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1919. He combined these skills with his creative impulses upon moving to New York, first enrolling in drawing classes at New York Public School 1922 and then at the Art Students League. Throughout his career, making jewelry provided Calder the perfect confluence of mechanics and artistic experimentation. His tactile appreciation of metal work progressed into a refined understanding of compositional balance and geometric harmony. After first leaving to study in Paris in 1926, Calder’s continued contact with the French capital, and the relationships he built with seminal Surrealists and Abstractionists such as Joan Miró made him a crucial bridge between Abstract Expressionism in New York and European Modernism.

    Calder’s sustained practice of delicately manipulating metals into evocative forms marks him as a pioneer of studio jewelry. Inspired by his milieu, his pieces were often personal gifts to friends, family, and patrons. In 1931, he made a triple banded ring with a spiral plaque as an engagement ring for his wife Louisa. The spiral motif would remain an enduring formal trope that he would reimagine in copper, brass, silver, and gold. Created circa 1940, Six Circles is emblematic of the artist’s technical capability. Elegance and order is maintained while the minute indentations of Calder’s hammer caress the surface, enabling it to shimmer with the record of his hand. The piece once belonged to artist Aviva Baal-Teshuva and her husband Jacob—a renowned critic of modern and contemporary art who later authored a publication on Calder. Tracing a single line of thinly hammered brass that aligns and overlaps to compose an eloquently gathered pyramid of loops, the piece speaks to the artist’s overriding concerns regarding movement and geometry, as expressed in the interlocking patterns of his lithographs and the motion of his mobiles.

    As a statement of allegiance to avant-garde artistic practice, Calder’s jewelry was collected avidly by influential contemporaries such as Peggy Guggenheim, Millicent Rogers, and Mary Rockefeller, each beguiled by its enigmatic effect. Created in 1936 and boasting outstanding provenance, Cape Clasp once formed part of Mary Rockefeller Morgan’s collection, having been originally acquired by Nelson A. Rockefeller—the renowned collector, philanthropist, and 41st Vice President of the United States who also served a as Trustee, Treasurer, and President of the Museum of Modern Art, New York at a time when the museum began to draw an equivalence between jewelry and contemporary art. An early work crafted in silver—which became scarcer in Calder’s œuvre as the war progressed—the elegant clasp plays with sculptural possibilities within the realm of functional attire. A seemingly infinite loop of glistening silver speaks to the conceptual rigor of geometry while the asymmetrical fluted ends and hand-formed rivets recall the endearing whimsy of Calder’s early representational wire sculptures. Here, Calder manipulates an ancient, precious metal, inviting the collector to revel in the free abandon of consciously naive forms and “join with him in eschewing the facile and pretentious.” As noted by Calder’s grandson Alexander S. C. Rower, “In my grandfather’s day and today, when his jewelry owners wear his pieces, it sets them apart and they make unspoken recognition as members of the Calder clan.”

  • Artist Bio

    Alexander Calder

    American • 1898 - 1976

    Alexander Calder worked as an abstract sculptor and has been commonly referred to as the inventor of the mobile. He employed industrious materials of wire and metal and transformed them into delicate nonobjective forms that respond to the wind or float in air. Although born into a family of sculptors, the artist studied mechanical engineering before pursuing a career in art; although this training in mechanics was not critical to the development of the mobile, it would later be applied to his monumental works. 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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Cape clasp

circa 1936
Hammered silver.
3 1/2 x 11 x 3/4 in. (8.9 x 27.9 x 1.9 cm)

$30,000 - 50,000 

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New York Auction 17 December 2019