20th Century Artists


Alexander Calder, also known as Sandy Calder, was born 1898 in Lawton, now a suburb of Philadelphia.  Although he grew up in an atmosphere open to the arts - his father Alexander Sterling Calder and grandfather Alexander Milne Calder (from Aberdeen) were both respected academic sculptors - he decided to become an engineer, graduating in 1919.

He worked at various jobs before attending the Art Students League, New York, to study painting and drawing from 1923-6.  He came into contact with the world of the circus in 1925 and was so fascinated with this environment that he knew he had found the motifs and subject matter for much of his work.  His first drawings and paintings were exhibited in 1926 at The Artists Gallery, New York followed in 1928 by his first one-man exhibition at the Weyhe Gallery, New York.

He first travelled to Europe in 1926 and in Paris met Julio Gonzalez, Antoine Pevsner, Naum Gabo, Miró, Mondrian, Picasso, Leger, Pascin, Ernst and Tanguy.  In 1927 he caused quite a stir with some of his first sculptures - animals made of wire and corks.  These eventually became so numerous that he created an entire miniature circus.  He had his first solo exhibition in Paris 1929 and in 1931 joined group Abstraction-Création whose members included Arp, Robert Delaunay, Naum Gabo, Kandinsky and Mondrian.

In 1930 he took a radical turn towards abstraction and began making kinetic sculptures.  He also visited Paris again and this time met Marcel Duchamp and Hans Arp.  Duchamp named Calder's sculptures, which could be moved by hand or by small electric motors, ‘Mobiles'.  Calder developed this idea from 1932 onwards - eventually creating pieces which were set in motion by air currents.  Arp coined the term 'Stabiles' for Calder’s immovable objects, the first being created in 1943 for the retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

During the 1930’s Calder lived mainly in the USA, at Roxbury, Connecticut.  He continued working on numerous Mobiles and Stabiles as well as monumental sculptures made of heavy metal plates.

In 1943 the Museum of Modern Art New York held a major retrospective of over 80 works - he was the youngest artist to have been awarded this honour.  At the beginning of the war he had spent time at Roxbury with Tanguy and his wife who had been exiled from Europe and had moved to Connecticut.  Later he also became great friends with Chagall who was another exile in the US.  It was around this time that Calder began painting bright gouaches in primary colours which were first exhibited at the Kootz Gallery in 1945.  He continued painting this type of work, as a welcome change from working with metal in the workshop.  Soon after the war in 1946 he returned to Paris and had an exhibition of mobiles, the catalogue essay written by Jean Paul Sartre.  He continued to make frequent trips to France eventually settling there in 1953 when he bought a house at Sache (Indre-et-Loire) near Tours.

Calder was by now an artist of great acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic.  He was awarded the Venice Biennale Sculpture Grand Prix in 1952 and the prestigious Carnegie Prize for Sculpture at the Pittsburgh International in 1958.  At this time he was producing prints, tapestries, gouaches and paintings beside sculptures.  Although he had produced gouaches since the late 1920’s, he began to take a more serious interest in them and to exhibit them from 1952.  The Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris organised a large retrospective exhibition in 1964/65.  At the same time he also worked on several stage settings for the Paris opera and other theatres.  In the later years Calder often travelled between Paris and New York, where he died in November 1976 shortly after the opening of a major retrospective entitled Calder’s Universe at the Whitney Museum.

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