by Dr. Lori Verderame
The American sculptor, Alexander Calder (1898-1976) is best known for his innovative constructed metal mobile–hanging art–sculptures and large scale public art pieces called Stabiles. A native of Pennsylvania, USA, Calder was born into a family of artists. He studied at the Arts Student League in New York, was a pupil of John Sloan and Thomas Hart Benton, and met and made art with some of the most important early 20th Century artists in American such as Jackson Pollock and abroad. He was friends with European masters, Joan Miro, Ferdinand Leger, and Piet Mondrian. These and other artists of the day inspired Calder’s work in abstraction.
Calder worked with abstract forms in metal based on the subject matter of the mid-century modern artists, the Abstract Expressionists such as David Smith, Seymour Lipton, Harry Bertoia, and Herbert Ferber. His mobiles and large scale public sculptures, like those made by Keith Haring, are in many museums and private collections worldwide.
While Calder’s sculptures are widely known, his prints are equally popular and quite valuable. His works on paper continue the themes of his established mobiles and public sculptures with bright primary colors. His prints depict animals, pyramids, graphic lines and shapes, faces, etc. in a straightforward and direct way. Most of Calder’s prints are childlike in their execution, simple in their forms, and filled with colors while enhanced with black and white outlines.
What to Look For
The easiest clue to identifying an Alexander Calder lithograph is the size of the paper on which the image is printed. Another way to tell if you have an authentic Calder is to consider the signature since Calder signed the greater number of his works on paper. There are standard sizes of paper which Calder used, so unless the print has been cut down–which negatively impacts value–most of Calder’s prints from a particular period of time would be about the same size. Calder was known to sign his works and Calder’s limited editions (the number of prints in a single print run) are typically small. This is an important trait when it comes to assessing value. Some prints can be approximately 30 x 50 inches and values for high quality prints in good condition range from the several thousands of dollars well into the high tens of thousands of dollars. The prints depicting subjects that are artistically connected to Calder’s career production such as pyramids, circles, fish, suns, and moons are quite desirable with collectors.
Calder’s prints provide a good example of why art enthusiasts and collectors need to know the difference between a poster and a print mainly because the values vary widely. It is important to learn the tips to identifying valuable prints by famous and not so famous artists. Calder’s prints have been found in major elite collections and have been mistakenly donated to charity stores like Good Will. His print, Red Nose, for instance, was bought from a Good Will store after someone mistakenly deposited it there. The piece was a valuable work worth nearly $10,000.
Get an online appraisal of your Alexander Calder print from Dr. Lori