ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976) Untitled (Pull Toy), circa 1958

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Lot 4
Untitled (Pull Toy), circa 1958

US$ 150,000 - 200,000
£ 110,000 - 150,000
Untitled (Pull Toy), circa 1958
tin cans and wire
33 1/2 x 8 x 3in. (85 x 20.3 x 7.6cm)


  • Provenance
    A gift from the artist to the present owner, circa 1958.

    Hartford, Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art, Calder in Connecticut, 28 April-6 August 2000 (illustrated in color, p. 97).
    Waterbury, Mattatuck Museum, The Calder Corner, 6 October 2005-10 March 2009 and 14 September 2011-1 October 2013.

    This work is registered in the archives of The Calder Foundation, New York, under application no. A21538.

    "He mumbled terribly. The way he spoke, plus the fact that he spent most of the year in Saché, France, led me to assume that he was French. During Christmas break when I was 15, my mother brought me to the Calder's to practice my high-school French. I distinctly remember Louisa smiling at me and saying, 'My dear, I'm sure Sandy would be delighted to speak French with you, but you do know, don't you, that he is American?'" – Calvin Hirsch

    Even while he was still young enough to be playing with them, Alexander Calder built toys. Tinkering with wire and wood in the studio built for him by his parents, even his early toys adumbrate the far-reaching influence his work would have upon the course of art history. On Christmas in 1909, Calder presented his parents with two gifts: a miniature dog and a moving duck. Cut from brass, they reveal an unparalleled adroitness and control of material for an eleven year old. He continued to lovingly fashion toys throughout his lifetime: from blue velvet cows to flying acrobats and tin cars to wheeled kangaroos. Calder was nothing if not prolific, but very calculatedly so. His toys display an immense amount of variation, as well as a marked empathy and discernment for the intended recipient who would actually play with these objects.

    To support himself while he was an art student in New York, Calder worked as an illustrator for the National Police Gazette, often covering the circus. His experiences at the circus were invaluable, influencing his artistic output for the entirety of his career. The circus, a rambunctious yet harmonic community of animals and performers enclosed within a colorful tent, changed his conception of space. Above all, the circus was a space full of gaiety and delight which appealed to Calder's personality and personal outlook. Calder reminisced, "I was very fond of the spatial relations. I love the space of the circus. I made some drawings of nothing but the tent. The whole thing of—the vast space—I've always loved it."1 In 1927, Calder began building his famous Cirque Calder (1926-1931). An amalgamation of wire, fabric, leather, rubber, cork, and other materials, the Cirque Calder was an interactive performance manned by the artist himself. The cirque grew into multiple iterations with several mechanical elements, however, it was always transportable. Calder preformed his circus in both the United States and in Europe, filling five large suitcases with whimsy. Neither slight nor svelte in stature, Calder would get down on his hands and knees, and with the help of music animate his bevy of imaginary performers and animals rendered from string and wire.

    Many components of the Cirque Calder stand toy-like on their own, though when viewed as a whole the work achieves a very different effect when individually components are considered. It is striking how Calder's toys achieve an enormously varied effect; analogous to the way in which gouache lent him the ability to experiment outside of his sculptural practice. Through this lens, one can interpret that his toys allowed the artist to work through kinetic issues while making objects that he knew would bring joy into the world. Calder spoke to the New York Herald in August of 1927, discussing the progression of his artistic practice following his studies in engineering and how this influenced his enthusiasm for making and designing toys. The artist explained that he "began by futuristic painting in a small studio in the Greenwich Village section of New York. It was a lot different to engineering but I took to my newfound art immediately. But it seemed that during all of this time I could never forget my training at Stevens, for I started experimenting with toys in a mechanical way. I could not experiment with mechanism as it was too expensive and too bulky so I built miniature instruments. From that the toy idea suggested itself to me so I figured I might as well turn my efforts to something that would bring remuneration. From then on I have constructed several thousand workable toys."2

    In November of 1927, an entrepreneurial Calder traveled to Oshkosh, Wisconsin to contract with the Gould Manufacturing Company. Designing a series of plywood animal prototypes, these action toys which were eventually marketed as "futuristic toys for advanced kiddies." The earnings from these toys helped Calder support himself at this early stage in his career. These toys and the sketches from which they are based are manifestations of the artist's legendarily cheery joie de vivre, yet it is clear the way Calder approached toys for the mass market quite differently than he did for children in his own life was very different. Although in some sense less conceptual than his stables and monumental works, the toys Calder made for Calvin Hirsch captured Calder's view of the world. Looping wire complemented by clean lines between bulbous, industrial forms are markedly similar in composition to the monumental stabile Untitled (1976) which graces the lobby of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. Pull Toy, fashioned when Calder was sixty-two years old, displays an remarkable understanding of and concordance with a child's brain. The tinny and rapturous sound produced by the hollow cans could be no more well suited being enjoyed by a little boy, while the material itself, derived from the beer cans the artist and his father Clifford sipped from, is a mischievous inclusion meant to incite delight from the parent rather than the participant. It is as if Calder shared in the sensory experience which would be derived from interacting with the work, understanding the psyche of the participant so well as to create something which would undeniably incite gratification. Much has been written of Calder's artistic ingenuity and his undeniable impact upon art of the 21st century, but this special work is one truly from the heart-a true statement to Calder's love for children and his unparalleled ability to bring joy into the world.

    1. C. Gray, Calder's Circus, New York, 1964, p. 23.
    2. The New York Herald, 4 August 1927.
ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976) Untitled (Pull Toy), circa 1958
ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976) Untitled (Pull Toy), circa 1958
ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976) Untitled (Pull Toy), circa 1958
ALEXANDER CALDER (1898-1976) Untitled (Pull Toy), circa 1958
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