Alexander Calder

The son and grandson of a sculptor, Alexander Calder has proved himself one of the most original of American artists. In November a retrospective exhibition of his work began at the Guggenheim Museum. This intimate portrait has been written by his friend, the English critic and author NICHOLAS GUPPY.

THE sun was shining, the air cool and scented with flowers, as early one April morning this year I drove out from Paris along the Autoroute de l’Est, and on through Chartres, Chateaudun, Tours, toward the heart of the Loire Valley. After hours of dry rolling uplands and vast fields, at last, on the other side of Tours, the road began to wind down into an intimate valley of green meadows, poplar groves, orchards. with here and there a scatter of stone houses: a checkerboard of bright colors, bounded on either hand by low yellow cliffs riddled with caves, the river Indre coiling serpentine down the middle.

I parked my car off the road beside two tiny cottages, separated by a vegetable garden from the river. Over the stone wall on the other side of the road I could see the metal-and-glass front of a large studio and the red disc of a giant mobile turning gently as the breeze hit it; above and behind the studio loomed a cliff matted with creepers and crowned with trees. Here, since 1953, Alexander Calder has lived for roughly half of each year, when not at his farm in Roxbury, Connecticut.

An iron door in the wall opened, and out came Calder, a big, gentle teddy bear with a Churchillian head: broad brow, a mass of silvery-white curls, and keen, humorous blue eyes. He was wearing a scarlet flannel shirt, tucked into shapeless corduroy trousers.

“Nicholas!” he called. “Good to see you! Good to see you, Nasser!” to the Persian “nuagist” painter Nasser Assar, who had driven down with me.

We entered the gravel courtyard. On the left, a three-story stone-and-rubble-built half-timbered house of the sixteenth century jutted out from the cliff. Ahead was a row of caves, one of which — closed, with a gray-painted door — was the wine cellar. (Calder likes caves; until recently he owned an inhabited one a few miles away, rented to a local family.) On the right, beyond a fifteen-foot standing mobile, with its poised, swinging arms, was the studio, with the gay colors of sculptures and paintings showing through the glass. A big refectory table, gray from years in rain and sun, stood out in the open. We pulled up some iron chairs and sat down while Calder uncorked a bottle of red wine.

As we began drinking, the courtyard gate opened with a tinkling from the little bell that hung on it, and in came Louisa, Calder’s wife, and their little grandson Willie Davidson, age eight, who lives with his parents across the road beside the river. They had been picking wild flowers in the woods, and the basket Louisa carried was filled with purple spikes of orchis. She was a tall, strong, handsome woman whose graying hair was swept back in a bun. She was wearing blue jeans, and a blouse of handwoven cotton, fringed around the edge. While we talked little Willie galloped about on a hobbyhorse made from a broom, with beer-can wheels, one of his grandfather’s famous toy inventions.

ONE might almost say that Calder’s career as an artist began with toys. After training and practicing as an engineer, he started illustrating for the National Police Gazette. In 1925 they gave him a pass to Barnum and Bailey’s circus, and as nothing else before, the circus set his imagination moving. He sketched and sketched: each animal or human performer was captured in the barest minimum of contour lines. What comes out so strongly is that right from the first he was trying to capture movement. Portrayal was not enough; he had to seize that nuance in a movement which gave it its character, which conveyed a mood. Perhaps it could only be done by exaggeration, and in this his art at this period is allied to caricature. But he was a caricaturist of movement and gesture, where lesser artists are caricaturists of features. We feel the wobbliness of a bear on roller skates drawn in just a few deft lines.

The following year when the circus came back, Calder was with it each evening again. And in the spring his small book Animal Sketching was published. At the same time he had a show of oils in New York and he began carving animals out of wood. Most important, he began making toys. Out of bits of twisted wire, corks, bottle tops, he made a duck that waddled as you pushed it along, a horse that galloped, and many others, all in remarkable imitation of the natural movements of the animals.

When he arrived in Paris in 1926 (after working his way over on a freighter), he was unknown, twenty-eight years old, with eight years of engineering studies and apprenticeship and three years of art school behind him. He knew no one except a few old acquaintances of the Art Students League. He was hard up and worked furiously; he began making toys again, and by the spring of the following year they were attracting the attention of fellow artists; he was invited to exhibit them at the Salon des Humoristes. He arranged them in a miniature circus, with acrobats, tightrope walkers, performing dogs, a knife thrower, a sword swallower, a lion trainer, a belly dancer— all performing in a miniature ring two feet across to appropriate music on the phonograph.

CALDER used wire in devising his circus performers, and now he began to make whole figures out of it. First the portrait of Josephine Baker; then Helen Wills, in action with outstretched tennis racket; a series of portrait heads of Léger, Varèse, Ozenfant, and many others in his growing circle of friends, which was to include Miró, Pascin, Cocteau, Foujita, Van Doesburg, Arp, and Helion.

At the same time he was carving in wood, with a soft sensuousness suggestive of Gauguin: cats, lions, horses, Negro women, acrobats, often closely following the shape and grain of the original wood. He also modeled in clay, cast in bronze, used metal sheeting cut out and twisted, in an endless series of experiments which are too little known today.

Still he had not found what was uniquely his. His works belonged in the main tradition of sculpture, but he had not yet achieved a fusion of the two sides of his nature — the serious sculptor, observing and analyzing form, and the engineer, observing and analyzing structure and movement. In 1928 when Calder visited the studio of Miró, who later became one of his closest friends, he was frankly puzzled by what he saw. Then in the spring of 1930 his “conversion” took place, and he plunged headlong into abstraction, to the extent even of apologizing for his earlier works. The change was catalyzed by a visit to Mondrian’s studio. It was like a three-dimensional version of one of the master’s abstracts: an irregular space with snowy white walls and ceiling, against which rectangles of red, blue, and yellow had been arranged for compositional effect; while at one side the scarlet cube of a phonograph provided the accent. To Calder the effect of such purity and simplicity of color and form was a revelation; it gave him “the necessary shock” that altered his whole way of looking at things, taking him along a pathway that was never to be retraced.

Yet he had one reservation about what he had seen at Mondrian’s: in his own words, “I thought at the time how fine it would be if everything there moved, though Mondrian himself did not approve of this idea at all.”

Calder’s next step was to translate these discoveries into sculpture. Although he returned to New York, where he exhibited wire and wood sculptures at the Museum of Modern Art later in 1930 — and got married — Calder’s new direction was not revealed until the following April, in his show of “Volumes, Vectors, and Densities” at the Galerie Percier in Paris: purely abstract structures of discs, spheres, wires, many of them painted red, blue, white, black.

In the preface to the catalogue. Léger wrote: “Before these new works, transparent, objective, exact, I think of Satie, Mondrian, Marcel Duchamp, Brancusi, Arp; those incontestable masters of reticent and silent beauty. Calder is of that line. He is American 100% Satie and Duchamp are 100% French. Yet they meet.” Arp, a few months later, christened these new works of Calder’s “stabiles.”

Having abstracted his forms, Calder first attempted to achieve a complete synthesis of his whole artistic expression — realizing Mondrian’s abstract forms in movement — by utilizing various simple clockwork or electric motors as means of moving the different shapes and colors in relations to each other, sometimes within a fixed frame, sometimes in three dimensions.

OUR talk had led us into the studio to examine one of those clockwork sculptures. I asked Calder about the famous story of Albert Einstein and the motordriven mobile A Universe, a piece dating from 1934 which was exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

“He’d heard about A Universe,” Calder said, “and he went and looked at it, and stayed forty minutes, just looking at it, rooted to the spot.”

“Is it true that he waved away everybody who approached,” I asked, “and then afterwards said, ‘I wish I’d thought of that’?”

“I don’t know about that; that’s probably somebody elaborating. But I guess he was waiting to see the same combinations come up again so that he could work out the ratios of the different parts. I had set the movements in a ratio of, I think, nine to ten, so that the whole machine had to do ninety cycles before it repeated itself. Einstein evidently must have waited for the whole cycle, which took about forty minutes.”

We can begin to appreciate how exacting are the mental requirements for the creation of works in which the parts move in relation to each other if we realize that even in ordinary stationary sculpture, fully three-dimensional works, such as Henry Moore’s great twoand three-part reclining figures, are rare enough; most sculpture is designed for a single definite viewpoint. I emphasize this point because much of Calder’s career has been concerned with the tackling of this problem. We may be excused if we think that his achievement lies in inventing a sort of supertoy for the intelligentsia and bringing in the wind to move it. Far more important is the intellectual and symbolic content of his work: underlying its apparent freedom and simplicity is an exceedingly strong intellectual structure, like the unyielding tone-row that controls the apparently free, arbitrary movement of sounds in the music of Webern. How great is Calder’s genius is shown by the fact that he has had not one successful imitator or follower in the field of moving sculptures, whereas his stabiles, constellations, wire sculptures, gouaches, and line drawings have had a host.

Calder first showed his mechanically moved sculpture — which Marcel Duchamp dubbed “mobiles”— at the Galerie Vignon in Paris in 1932. Yet he was far from satisfied. However complex the ratios, however enjoyable the intellectual and aesthetic problems involved, with any mechanism there was bound to be a set pattern of events, which in the end became repetitious. Further, the mechanisms themselves intruded upon the form of the sculpture, sometimes ran jerkily, and were likely to break down. Such vulnerability did not please the engineer in him.

All these considerations turned Calder toward the simpler mechanisms involved in wind propulsion, and in the same year he made his first purely wind-moved mobile, the delightful Calderberry Bush. Although he still makes mechanical mobiles to this day, it was in Calderberry Bush and its successors that he discovered the fundamentals of his art, and henceforward it was the possibilities inherent in wind mobiles that he chiefly explored in his sculpture, though of course not in his paintings.

In the earliest of these wind mobiles, discs, spheres, triangles, and lines were still the component elements. Yet Calder was not prepared to follow for long Mondrian’s famous dictum: “In the new art, forms are neutral . . . effort suppresses the subject and the particularized form.” For Calder the only truly worthwhile forms were those which had meaning. And for him this implied connection with the world of nature. So, very soon he was experimenting with freer, more organic shapes, undoubtedly much under the influence of his friends Arp and Miró. Indeed, at certain points in the early thirties one might say that these artists’ works are so similar that they almost fuse. Yet however close the forms they used, however much they resembled one another in humor, the content of their work has always been markedly individual, and enables it to be recognized immediately. Arp is perhaps the most consistent; his work is earthy, earthy as the nose of a truffle-hound snuffling after roots; Arp’s forms might all have been dragged out of the ground or turned up under a pile of leaf mold or in a mushroom bed.

With Miró, on the other hand, similar forms are given a more animal than vegetable life and take on a strong psychological and emotional content. Miró’s works wriggle with life, with insects, worms, snakes, little creatures that bite. But it is a hostile life, a life that expresses and gives rise to anxiety.

Calder handles such forms intellectually, spatially, objectively. There is no trace of anxiety, only concern with the absolute nature of things, and it is this that makes his work seem so serene and happy. Calder’s world of nature includes, besides such forms derived from plants and animals, the whole cosmos — suns, moons, molecules, and all — and it is because of this that discs and spheres, unlike other geometrical forms which he has used from time to time, have remained constant in his work.

“When I have used spheres and discs, I have intended that they should represent something more. . . . The earth is a sphere, but also has . . . miles of gas about it, volcanoes upon it, and the moon making circles around it. . . . The sun is a sphere — but also is a source of intense heat. . . . A ball . . . or a disc ... is a rather dull object without this sense of something emanating from it.”

One of the biggest influences on Calder’s further evolution was his purchase in 1933 of the farm in Roxbury, Connecticut, where he lives when not in the Loire Valley. From then on he was able to stay as close to the leaves, streams, flowers, and creatures of his mythology as was humanly comfortable. And with more space, he was able to expand his work out of doors, increase it in size, subject it to the severe test of a natural background, experiment with the effects of wind and weather. Although indoors his sense of delicate fantasy could be allowed full play, now a new, often monumental strength began to appear, in works of which the elements were usually few and robust. First of these great outdoor works was the ten-foot-high Steel Fish (1934), formerly in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, the direct ancestor of such pieces as the giant stand-mobile Spiral, for UNESCO (1958), which is today one of the sights of Paris.

LUNCH is ready,” called Louisa. The long living room which we entered from Calder’s studio made up the entire ground floor of the house. At one end of this fifty-foot room was the “kitchen”— a small electric cooker, a refrigerator, and a sink, separated from the rest of the room by a transverse table topped by giant jars containing herbs and relishes, saucepans, and casseroles. Above, from a bar of iron, hung gaily colored clusters of enamel colanders, ladles, spoons, jugs, and other cooking utensils, forming together an impromptu mobile. Everything was beautiful and simple. Not a single piece of furniture in the room was of the kind that requires polishing or makes demands for care or attention upon its owner.

At this kitchen end, the whole house abutted against the cliff, and the wall of the room was simply roughhewn whitewashed rock face, in an irregularity of which a cutout tin cat with glass eyes had been stuck, as if climbing up. To the left the cliff had been deeply undercut, and in the cave so formed, green with mosses and algae (moisture seeps through), stood a disused winepress, in the center of a large circular hollow in the rock into which the grapes were piled, for the whole property once belonged to a wine grower. Here Louisa kept rows of bottles, glasses, and other imperishable kitchen stores. At the opposite end of the room, beneath a cavernous chimneypiece and an old oven, a semicircular raised hearth carried a log fire on which chops and steaks were grilled and joints were spitroasted.

We sat down at another long refectory table, where an enormous jar filled with marguerite daisies was distilling a honey scent into the air. Like the other table outside, it had been built to Calder’s design by a local carpenter.

The floor tiles were covered by brightly colored rugs, hand woven by Louisa from Calder’s gouache designs (big baskets of different colored wool stood here and there), and a few rush-and-wool mats from Morocco.

Above the desk a railway sleeper-tie — a massive iron object with two “eye” holes and a beaky “nose”

— leaned against a wall showing as a curious face. Above it, connected to the ceiling by an elaborate cobweb, was one of the famous wire portraits, of Louisa herself. Hanging from the huge whitepainted oak beams of the ceiling, five mobiles of widely varied pattern, color, and size rotated dreamily: like drifting clouds or nodding leaves in a woodland. They unfolded, slowly, without tension, with the beauty that comes only from a perfect understanding of natural movements. I remembered the words that Sartre, who feels a strong identification between his philosophy and Calder’s works, had written for one of Calder’s exhibitions: “Calder . . . catches true, live movements and fashions them. His mobiles . . . are absolutes .... For each one of them Calder establishes a general career of movement and then he abandons it: it is the time of day, the sunshine, the heat, the wind which will determine each individual dance ... although Calder has not sought to imitate anything

— because he has not wanted to do anything but to create scales and chords of unknown movements — they are at once lyrical inventions, almost mathematical technical combinations and, at the same time, the sensible symbol of Nature — this great vague Nature, which throws pollen about lavishly and will produce brusquely the flight of a thousand butterflies.”

Everywhere there was color: strong, clear, pure color, filling the air with gaiety. Everywhere flowers: big bowls of daisies, orchids from the woods, buttercups: a ten-foot-long scarlet, white, and black Chinese paper dragon hanging from the ceiling bared formidable teeth amid the mobiles; tiny mobiles, sprightly as yellow and crimson insects, sat on the tabletops; a glowing jewel-green glass water valve from Italy hung on the walls between San Blas Island fabrics in colorful slashed cloth with abstract or facelike patterns; a broom with a patchwork head and vivid red nylon bristles, bought by Louisa on one of their travels, stood in the corner near a huge eel trap woven from osiers by the Loire fishermen. And the lights (for the day had clouded over heavily): marvelous softly glittering silvery lights in odd corners, over desks and tables, and a great glowing chandelier afloat above the dining table, their shades and reflectors all made from tin baking dishes!

“I hope you don’t mind,” Louisa said, coming to the table with a bowl in her hand. “But I thought for lunch we would just have cold things and a salad.” The cold things were Touraine specialties: rillettes and rillons and smoked ham.

“What has happened to Clouds Over Mountains?” I asked as we began eating.

I had seen it at the Tate: a fourteen-foot-long range of mountain peaks in black sheet steel, over which soared a group of tiny clouds on a steel rod. Ever since, I had asked frequently where it was, hoping that someone in England would buy it so that I could go and look at it from time to time.

“It’s been given to the Chicago Art Institute,” Calder said, smiling. “But the Tate itself got a fivefoot-wide mobile; and a big one — I think it was twelve feet across — called Chicago Black was bought for Temple Newsam Art Gallery in Yorkshire.”

“And what about The Crab?” I asked.

“It got lost on its way to Houston,” Calder said. “The museum there bought it.”

Twenty feet long, ten feet wide by ten feet high, and painted bright orange-scarlet, this huge stabile with delicately tiptoeing legs, beneath whose arches a group of people could walk, had dominated the main central hall of the Tate.

“It was taken to pieces and carefully wrapped in blankets,” Calder explained, “and put into a truck to be driven from New York to Houston. Halfway there the truck driver phoned up his home and found his family was ill. So he changed direction and drove off there. For a week nobody knew where it was. It was like the mobile that was presented to the President of Venezuela after the exhibition there in 1955 — after the revolution no one could find it. Anyway, James J. Sweeney, the museum director, and my New York dealer were frantic until someone thought of tracing the driver to his home. There it was, still sitting in the truck. Only when they reloaded it into another truck, they carefully folded up the blankets and stacked them in a corner, and just chucked in the metal pieces one on top of the other. When it finally got to Houston, the whole thing had to be repainted!”

“ I hope they had the right paint, because that particular color was marvelous,” I said.

“ I sent it to them. But that doesn’t always happen. For instance, I had a big mobile which won the first prize at the Carnegie International at Pittsburgh in 1958. So they bought it and presented it to the airport there. But they repainted it yellow and green, because those were the county colors!”

“And what happened to the International Mobile?” A twenty-foot-wide work like a sky of moving clouds high overhead.

“That’s at Houston, too,” Calder said.

“What other big works have you done lately?”

“There was a big mobile I did for a bank in Hartford, Connecticut, last year. And a very big one some time ago for Idlewild International Airport. I called it 125.”

What I really meant were big outdoor ones,” I said.

“Two years ago, in sixty-two, I did a large piece for Stockholm called The Four Elements. It’s about thirty feet high and has four parts that are moved by a motor.”

“Do any other cities have outdoor mobiles?”

“I’m doing two more right now. But you mustn’t tell anyone where they’re for. it’s a secret. Then there’s also Whirling Ear, which originally stood in a pond at the Brussels Fair. I did that in 1958, the same year as the Spiral, outside UNESCO in Paris. I built it in a mechanical shop near Roxbury. At first I had it going at two rpm; then I slowed it down to one rpm because it looked as if the ear had gone crazy. When I did that a Scotsman said to me, ‘If you have it any slower, you’ll no be able to call it the Whirling Ear, Mr. Calder!’ ”

THE next morning, breakfast at the long table downstairs consisted of honey and toast, and coffee served in big white bowls. It was a delightfully soft spring morning, with thin mists rising over the river and a pale sun warming the flowers and early bees. Nasser and I found Calder in one of the twin little yellow stone houses on the other side of the road, near where I had parked my car. A few roses were blooming against the wall, and a single purple flower hung on a clematis vine.

Inside he was painting a gouache of swirlingforms in blue and red, like nebulae, or suns, or again, like sunflowers. Over a few odd tables, scattered to dry, were other gouaches. A rampage at color flooded the room. Where his brush had touched the wet paper, a blazing spectrum of suns and moons, stars, starfish, and butterflies burst forth. To him his paintings, still virtually unknown to the public, are just as important a medium of expression as his sculpture.

“I was just going up to the big studio,” said Calder. “Would you like to come? We could walk if you don’t mind. I like walking, as long as I’m not in a hurry.”

We closed the door and set off along the road. He held our arms and pulled us to the side as we rounded the first bend.

“A very dangerous corner,” he murmured.

A little farther on he pointed to an open space between buildings, where the ground was curiously granular and purplish.

“See that? That’s where they hold the vendage. They press the grapes there . . . that’s all grape skins and pips.”

He paused, then pointed to a long barn that ran along one side, from the road right back to the cliff. “I’ve got another storeroom here. Like to see inside?” he asked.

It was like the opening of Aladdin’s cave: a long, narrow room, with a floor that sloped upward gently, and a steep-pitched roof, all a jumble of mobiles and stabiles.

Standing in the middle was a big bronze casting of a mobile, a human figure with horizontal torso and one leg outstretched behind, as if skating, set to balance and rotate on a base which consisted of the other leg. In the middle of the war Calder had produced a few such works in which, according to Sweeney, he had returned to modeling the human figure as an act of self-discipline because he felt he had developed too much facility in handling materials and was becoming “ingrown, habit-bound and uninventive.” After this his works had acquired a new and magical grace, as can be seen in mobiles like Bayonets Menacing a Flower, or The Forest Is the Best Place, and in stabiles like Morning Cobweb.

A large and bulging sack lay to one side, and pointing to it I asked. “What’s that?”

“That’s the Mercury Fountain,” he said —— to my astonishment, for I had always imagined that so famous and historical a piece must surely be in a museum. Designed at Miró and Sert’s instigation for the Spanish pavilion at the Paris Exposition in 1937, it had attracted almost as much attention as Picasso’s Guernica (next to which it had stood), with its flashing, playing flow of the liquid metal tumbling down a series of chutes and drops until it struck the lower flange of the mobile part, causing it to move.

We walked out of the village into the open country, with the road following the contour of the slope, and soon Calder’s vast new studio came into sight, crowning the hill like some castle or monastery. It is typical of Calder that he should have designed a building so perfectly in keeping with the landscape, using traditional methods where possible and appropriate, yet without deviating in the slightest from an utter modernity of conception and use, for the building was designed for the housing and assembling of his largest works, any single one of which would have entirely filled the small studio by his house.

By now we were almost level with the studio and could see the cluster of huge stabiles on the terrace in front, high above the flowering apples, cherries, and plums, and the sweep of the landscape below.

“For years,” Calder said, “I didn’t have any space for my really big pieces. Then I went to visit with Tal Coat up in Brittany. He had a really beautiful studio, and all the time I had been working in small places. So it gave me the idea of building this, and as a result, I can now go ahead developing large-scale ideas in a way I could never do before.”

“Who actually makes them for you?” I asked.

“Mostly they are made by Biémont, the big ironworks that you pass on the way into Tours. I make the scale model, the maquette, out of sheet aluminum with indications of where all the flanges, gussets, and so forth, necessary to join the component parts together and give strength, are to go. At the foundry they have equipment for shaping and cutting the sheet steel to size. Then afterwards we have to weld on the flanges, drill screw holes; and sometimes I decide to make changes at that stage also. Then we bring the pieces up here and assemble them and paint them. All these big pieces can be unscrewed and taken apart for shipping. Of course the big stabile at Spoleto was made in Italy by Italsider.”

“Before you make the maquettes do you work out the design on paper?”

“Yes. usually. It’s a question of how new or difficult the problems involved are.”

We crossed the steel bridge leading to the upper floor at the rear of the building and entered a single great room some one hundred feet long by perhaps forty feet wide and forty-five feet high, with floor-toceiling glass windows along the entire opposite wall, and a glass roof at the distant end.

Four stabiles, the highest about thirty feet high, stood at various points in the room, their steel arches and legs forming a labyrinth between which we walked to and fro. I was reminded of the buttressed trees of the Guiana jungle, amid which I had lived for close to five years. But the life in these immense creations was animal, not vegetable. Tense, their still limbs ready to move, they were like arthropod fossils from some unknown giant-bearing reach of the Carboniferous.

At the far end of the room a twelve-foot-tall assembly of rectangles of paper painted in gay colors and joined into a single composition was the design for a new Aubusson tapestry. On the floor nearby were a few oil paintings.

“Would you like to take one of those?” he asked, turning to me.

“Sure thing!” I said.

After I had picked one out, he said, “Now I suppose you want me to sign. A man came to me the other day and told me how he had got a drawing from Picasso, but Picasso wouldn’t sign. So when he got a drawing out of me, I wouldn’t sign either! I guess he was very angry. Still, I suppose I’d better sign for you.”

His eyes twinkling, he picked up the canvas and moved over to a table where he began charging a brush with paint, twisting the brush around to splay out the bristles, then signed “AC,” but almost illegibly.

“Here you are, Nicholas,” he said, with a wide grin.

We descended a stairway near the entrance to the lower floor — also a single room, but containing an immense central-heating plant and a small partitioned-off washroom and lavatory. Though the ceiling was about fifteen feet high, it seemed low because of the great size of the room. There were no sculptures in here, but through a series of arches, containing glassed folding double doors that ran the whole length of the room, we could see half a dozen standing on the terrace.

We walked outside to look at them. They stood, strange black beasts of enigmatic beauty, poised as if ready to leap from this great terrace, where one felt as if in an airplane skimming the valley. A marvelous panorama unrolled before us: a rich cultivated landscape that shelved gradually away to the river meadows, then rose in folds and swells to the forested crest of the valley opposite, and stretched far away into blue distances.

From only a few yards away came a hail from a plowman, turning his big Percheron horse, its shaggy feet striking deep into the soft soil. The pears and apples were in blossom, pink and white, the vines a tender green between a maze of upright posts and wires.

One of the big stabiles had a foot curling up into a narrowing spiral. I turned to Calder: “That’s a form you have been using for years in your gouaches; now you’ve transferred it to your sculpture!”

He smiled.

There came the sound of a car approaching. Louisa stepped out. “I’ve come to collect you,” she said. “Don’t forget you’ve got to drive over to have lunch with Peter Bellew [director of UNESCO’s art side]. And Nicholas has promised to mark his trees for thinning out! Don’t let that delay you too long, and bring Peter back early — remember, we have Max Ernst coming to dinner, and he’ll have a long way to drive home afterwards!”

“Nasser and I will walk,” I said. “We’ll get back ahead of you; we’ll cut across the field.”

And while Calder and his wife gathered a few flowers from the wood at the side of the studio, Assar and I set off down the road.

“It’s amazing,” said Assar after a while, “the way he views the world with a totally innocent eye, as if he were seeing it all, everything, just as it is, with no associations, no anxiety, no fear. He is like the first man, Adam. He sees every living thing in all its joy. It is not that he is naïve. Nor can you really call him sophisticated. That is the wrong word . . . he is something else. He is a pantheist, welcoming everything in the whole world. A wicked man, a poisonous snake — he recognizes their danger, objectively, but also their right to five along with everything else. So he can handle such matters without fear or anxiety marring his judgment. He is all-accepting, in the religious sense, and each work of his for that reason is like a paean.”

After that, coming from someone normally extremely reticent, what more was there to say?