Mary (Meric) Callery was an American sculptor associated with modernism and post–World War II Abstract Expressionism. She is best known for her playful, abstract and figurative metal statues created after her return to the United States from France in 1940.
Born into an affluent family in 1903 and raised in Pittsburgh, Callery studied sculpture with Edward McCarten at the Art Students League in New York City in the 1920s. She moved to Paris in 1930 where she worked under the Russian-born sculptor Jacques (Jacob) Loutchansky and befriended the artists Alexander Calder, Henri Laurens, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Amédée Ozenfant, and Pablo Picasso. Callery left the French capital on 6 July 1940 shortly after the Nazi invasion of France, taking with her the collection she had assembled during the previous decade. She continued to acquire art throughout the rest of her life.
Callery presented her highly regarded collection of Picassos and Légers for the first time at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1945. According to the exhibition checklist, she owned twenty-three canvases, numerous works on paper, and a sculpture by Picasso as well as eight works by Léger. The display included Picasso’s Bather (1908–09; Museum of Modern Art, New York) and Nude Woman (1910; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) as well as Léger’s monumental Composition (The Typographer) (1918–19; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Promised Gift from the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection), which Callery had probably purchased directly from the artist in the 1930s. In addition to acquiring artworks from her peers, Callery was a client of the Parisian dealer Paul Rosenberg. In 1977, her collection was bequeathed to her niece, Marcella Baroness Korff, and was ultimately sold Christie’s, Paris, on July 2, 2009.
As a sculptor, Callery enjoyed significant artistic and commercial success from the 1940s to the 1960s. After she returned to the United States, her work was shown regularly at prominent galleries in New York City, Chicago, Boston, and Paris. During these years, she briefly lived in Montana (1945–47), while maintaining studios in New York City, Paris, and Huntington, Long Island (a design by Mies van der Rohe). In 1945 Callery joined the summer teaching staff at Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina. The faculty that summer also included Robert Motherwell, Lyonel Feininger, Walter Gropius, and Ossip Zadkine. Aside from her artist friends, Callery kept close alliances with a number of modernist architects, including Wallace K. Harrison and Philip Johnson, who introduced her to Mies van der Rohe around 1947. Art critics Christian Zervos—whose Cahiers d’art publication series she helped finance—and Henry McBride championed her work. As a result of her close-knit social networks in New York and Paris during the postwar era, Callery became an important link between many artists, architects, and collectors. She was also frequently commissioned to create public art projects in New York City, including a sculpture for the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center (commissioned by Harrison) and the polychrome steel frieze Fables of La Fontaine that she designed in 1954 for P.S. 34, a public school on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Callery’s work can be found in many European and American private collections as well as the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among others.
For more information, see
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Callery, Mary. “The Last Time I Saw Picasso.” ARTnews 41, no. 2 (March 1–14, 1942): 23 and 36.
“The Callery Collection: Picasso—Léger.” Philadelphia Museum Bulletin 40, no. 204 (January 1945): 35–48.
Daix, Pierre, and Joan Rosselet. Picasso: The Cubist Years, 1907–1916. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings and Related Works. London: Thames and Hudson, 1979.
Marks, Claude. “Callery, Mary.” World Artists 1950–1980. New York: The H. W. Wilson Company, 1984.
Rindge, Deborah A. “Mary Callery (1903–1977).” In North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary, edited by by Jules Heller and Nancy G. Heller, 106–07. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1995.
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