Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976) Araignée (Maquette)  1957
Lot 28*
Alexander Calder
(American, 1898-1976)
Araignée (Maquette)
Sold for £ 362,500 (US$ 483,457) inc. premium

Lot Details
Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976)
Araignée (Maquette)

sheet metal and paint

41.3 by 61 by 41.3 cm.
16 1/4 by 24 by 16 1/4 in.

This work was executed circa 1957.


  • This work is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, under application number A13171.

    Private Collection, Paris (gift from the artist)
    Private Collection, USA (by descent from the above)
    Sale: Sotheby's, New York, Contemporary Art, Morning, 13 May 2004, Lot 126
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

    Alexander Calder is one of the few artists who can truly bring metal to life. Although also celebrated for his gouache paintings on paper, and indeed his jewellery, it is his three-dimensional works that capture the true essence of Calder's aesthetic. His sculptures have personalities all of their own, each displaying unique character traits thanks to their creator's undeniable talent at working with metal. Celebrated writer, political activist and artists' muse Nancy Cunard summed up this talent a decade before the creation of the present work when she stated, "If one had thought of iron as impersonal, without much warmth in its nature, with neither heart nor sex, see what Calder does with it." (Jazz Forum no. 4, April 1947, p.15).

    Cunard's quote certainly resonates with anyone who has experienced Araignée (Maquette), 1957. The sculpture demonstrates Calder at the height of his Pygmalion-like abilities. As its title suggests, the work is instantly recognisable as a spider, for even when he is at his most abstract, Calder's best sculptures display hints of reality, memories of the real world. This spider is a vital thing, its slender legs stretching out, its body substantial and grounded. It is a sculpture filled with potential, apparently on the verge of motion. Looking at it inspires the unsettling feeling that it is poised, pondering its environment, perhaps waiting to scuttle on its way. Perhaps waiting to pounce.

    Calder was fascinated by animals throughout his life. Some of his earliest sculptures included representations of cats (Flat Cat, 1926) and cows (Cow, 1928), and while these surprisingly traditional wooden pieces are perhaps not instantly recognisable as Calder sculptures, his wire circus figures of around the same period begin to display his own unique style. They brim with movement, carefully coiled in their elegant linearity. Calder met Spanish modern master Joan Miró in 1928, and was inspired by his use of fantastic animal forms. Through Miró, Calder was introduced to Paul Klee, and admired his whimsical drawings of animals. The 1930s are often regarded as a time of innovation for Calder, a period when he approached his art with a new-found seriousness, ditching the amusing charm of his wire sculptures for the more ambitious stabiles and mobiles. The present work can be seen as the end result of these influences and experiments, a virtuoso demonstration of his skills in sculpting solid metal to create a decidedly un-solid object.

    Araignée (Maquette), 1957 inevitably brings to mind the famous Spider sculptures of Louise Bourgeois. Bourgeois, of course, came to the subject many years after Calder, and produced a number of Spiders in various media and differing dimensions. The huge steel spider entitled Maman which was exhibited at London's Tate Modern in 2000 is arguably one of her most widely-known sculptures. But look beyond the surface and there are different approaches here; for while Bourgeois presents the spider as a complex metaphor for her own life, in particular the strong, intelligent and patient presence of her mother, Calder's approach is more light hearted. Calder prided himself on his non-metaphorical attitude to art; not for him the deep hidden meaning of the exploration of the dark subconscious. Instead Calder aimed to create objects and images that held their own meaning and purpose. For Calder's best sculptures, just existing is reason enough, as Araignée (Maquette), 1957 so successfully demonstrates.

    Sculptures such as Araignée (Maquette), 1957 offer a startling counterpoint to Calder's colourful mobiles. Where they are light and delicate, this work is strong, brooding and powerful. Comparing them to the mobiles, Giovanni Carandente accurately notes that the stabiles "have a poetry of another, no less intense kind. Instead of mobility, they have the qualities of grandeur, and unexpectedness" (Calder: Mobiles and Stabiles, London, 1968, p. 5). The energetic legs of the present sculpture, which arch so elegantly away from its solid body, prove his point perfectly.
    Araignée (Maquette), 1957 dates from a period in Calder's career when he was just beginning to dedicate himself to the creation of large-scale works. His 1956 exhibition at Perls Galleries in New York, entitled simply Calder, consisted entirely of large stabiles. By 1962 he had produced his first truly monumental piece, Teodelapio, so huge that he had to commission a company of Italian shipbuilders to produce it. This was a time of post-war optimism, when demand for public works of art was at an all-time high, and Calder's stabiles fitted the bill. He was commissioned by governments, builders and property developers across the world, his sculptures finding homes in places as diverse as India, Mexico and New York. One of the final products of this period, and probably the most famous of these public sculptures, is the Grand Stabile Rouge, better known as L'Araignée Rouge (the Red Spider). This colossal work, which clearly relates to the present work, was erected in 1976, the year of Calder's demise. With its monumental forms measuring fifteen metres in height and weighing seventy five tons, L'Araignée Rouge has now become symbolic of la Défense, the district of Paris that it inhabits.
    Calder's monumental stabiles are much loved throughout the world, be it Paris's colourful L'Araignée Rouge, the playful Hats Off in New York or the massive, stately curves of Teodelapio, which now straddles a street in Spoleto, Italy.
    Araignée (Maquette), 1957, may not be monumental in its scale, but it is an imposing work with great presence, and a captivating example of Calder's masterful ability to capture in metal a satisfying sense of dynamic equilibrium.
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