Little introduction is needed for Alexander Calder, who is one of the most renowned artists of the twentieth century. Calder gained greatest acclaim for his "mobiles", a termed coined by friend Marcel Duchamp describing Calder's anchored moving sculptures. He was, however, prolific and worked throughout his career in many art forms. He produced drawings, oil paintings, watercolors, etchings, gouache and serigraphy. Calder's abstract paintings, such as this impressive example, are characteristically direct, spare, buoyant, colorful, and carefully crafted. There is a feeling of primitivism in this particular painting as well, and it is obvious he has drawn his inspiration from the simplicity of form of African tribal art.
Alexander Calder was born in 1898 in Philadelphia, and both his father and grandfather were well-known sculptors. After obtaining his mechanical engineering degree from the Stevens Institute of Technology, Calder worked at various jobs before enrolling at the Art Students League in New York in 1923. In 1936 he moved to Paris where he took some classes at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere and made his first wire sculptures. By 1928, Calder had gained international recognition as a significant artist after exhibiting in New York, Berlin and Paris. A visit to Piet Mondrian's studio proved pivotal, and Clader began to work in an abstract style, finishing his first non-objective construction in 1931. From the 1940's on, Calder's works, many of them large-scale outdoor sculptures, have been placed in virtually every major city of the Western World.
This lyrical painting by Alexander Calder was made in 1969 in the same year that the magnificent new studio ‘Le Carroi’ was completed in the small village of Saché in the Loire Valley. Establishing himself in this idyllic region of France during the 1950s, Calder quickly became a valued member of the Saché community as he hired local craftsmen and commissioned the nearby Tours factory to help construct his famous mobiles and stabiles.
‘Composition’ is dedicated to one particular close friend made during this period, Anne-Marie Marteau. A maths teacher from Tours, Marteau (meaning hammer) was a radical member of the ‘Liberation-North’ resistance movement during the Second World War and frequent visitor to ‘Le Carroi’. Nicknamed ‘Albino’, Marteau organised the first meetings of the resistance in the region to shelter Jews, objectors and foreign soldiers, and established a children’s protection agency in 1946. Calder, amongst other artists such as Max Ernst and Olivier Debré, donated key works to help raise funds for this cause after the war, including the present 'Composition'.
In Anne-Marie Marteau’s endearing essay ‘Hello Mister Calder!’ from the exhibition catalogue ‘Alexandre Calder en Touraine’ (2008) for the Château de Tours, she recalls the idyllic life that her friend had created in Saché and the charming studio that became a favourite spot for local tourists. The title ‘Hello Mister Calder!’ captures the lively spirit of the artist; referring to the shouts heard from passers-by hoping to catch a glimpse of the man himself and a playful reference to the famous painting ‘The Meeting (Bonjour Monsieur Courbet)’ (1854) by Gustave Courbet in which the artist is greeted by his faithful patron Alfred Bruyas. In this article Marteau celebrates how “the world of Calder has become familiar to the people of Tours” and her own unique response to his mobiles: “I was alone in the middle of them, utterly happy in a world of mathematics and poetry, of space and movement, which seemed to me to be eternal, and joyful.”
Gifted from the artist to Anne-Marie Marteau, Tours, France
Private collection, by descent