One half of a husband-and-wife duo and best known for his sheep sculptures, French sculptor Francois-Xavier Lalanne made surreal animal and flora- and fauna-inspired works with often hidden functional uses.Read More
Born in Agen, France, Lalanne received a Jesuit education growing up. After the Second World War, Lalanne moved to Paris to study painting, drawing, and later sculpture at the Académie Julian.
Strong Parisian influences on his signature surreal and abstract style included Constantin Brancusi, René Magritte, and Salvador Dalí. Renting a studio in Montparnasse, close to Brancusi's, Lalanne was introduced to Max Ernst, Jean Tinguely, Man Ray, and Marcel Duchamp. Further influences came from working as an assistant at the Louvre, where he spent hours observing ancient animal sculptures in the galleries, and as a draughtsman for French-Hungarian architect André Sive.
At his first solo exhibition in 1952, Francois-Xavier Lalanne met his future wife and life-long artistic collaborator Claude Dupeux. Following their first joint exhibition Zoophites in 1964, the couple would collaborate often throughout their married lives.
Lalanne's artwork brings the familiar dimension of nature to sculpture. He created whimsical menageries of sheep, monkeys, frogs, cats, hippos, rhinos, and other animals, which he refined into abstracted sculptural forms and humorously adapted for functional use.
One of the artist's most enduring series, Francois-Xavier Lalanne's sheep became highly sought-after design objects among creative elites. For their first exhibition at the Salon de la Jeune Peinture in Paris in 1965, Lalanne created 24 cast-bronze sheep wrapped in wool to make surreal yet comfortable seating.
Over the next five decades, Lalanne made different versions of these moutons for influential clients such as Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Bergé, Alexandre Iolas, and Gunter Sachs. Variations included sheep with black wool, outdoor versions that shed their woolly hide for durable epoxy stone, and even a gold-coated series made in the mid-1990s for Peter Marino.
Lalanne often concealed utilitarian functions within his animal forms. Reflecting the sly anti-bourgeois humour of the Surrealists, Lalanne concealed an entire bathtub within the life-size brass and copper Hippopotame I (1969), which was stowed beneath a hinged mechanism.
Defying the conventions and non-utilitarian function of art upheld by Paris' artistic elite at the time, Lalanne's sculptures collapse boundaries of form and function.
Francois-Xavier & Claude Lalanne: In the Domain of Dreams, published by Rizzoli in 2018, presents a litany of such functional works produced over the decades, including desks hidden in rhinos and donkeys, a hippopotamus wet bar, bird-shaped rocking horses and outdoor seating, and a baboon fireplace.
Lalanne has participated in an number of projects for public spaces throughout his career, including monumental fountains for the square in front of Paris' Hotel de Ville, commissioned by the French Ministry of Culture in 1983; a memorial fountain titled La Pleureuse (1986) at the Hakone Open-Air Museum in Japan; the design for Jardin des Enfants above central Paris' renovated Forum des Halles in 1988; and The Dinosaurs of Santa Monica (1989)—a series of dinosaur topiary water features installed on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade.
In 2009 Claude and Francois-Xavier Lalanne produced a series of works to be displayed on the green strip in the middle of park avenue for Park Avenue Recession Art. Included was a large bronze apple, a group of sheep sculptures, and Francois-Xavier's last sculpture, Singe Avisé (Très Grand) (2008).
In early recognition of his achievements, Lalanne was made a Knight of Arts and Letters in 1968. In 1974 he was nominated as a Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur. His life's work was also posthumously honoured alongside his wife's at a Claude Lalanne and Francois-Xavier Lalanne retrospective at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 2010.
Lalanne has been the subject of solo exhibition, duo, and group exhibitions.
Solo and duo exhibitions include Claude & François-Xavier Lalanne: Nature Transformed, Clark Institute, Williamstown (2021); The Lalanne at Trianon, Palace of Versailles, France (2021); Les Lalanne: The Poetry of Sculpture, S|2, New York (2013); F.X. and Cl. Lalanne — Les Sculpteurs dans la Rue, Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Agen, France (2000); Les Lalanne à Bagatelle, Park and Château de Bagatelle, Paris (1998); Polymorphoses, Deutsch-Französisches Kulturinstitut, Essen (1980); Les Lalanne, Centre Pompidou (1975); and Les Lalanne, Art Institute of Chicago (1967).
Claude and Francois-Xavier Lalanne's prices at auction have steadily risen since the 2009 auction of the estate of fashion mogul Yves Saint Laurent at Christie's. Saint Laurent was an avid collector of the pair's art. One of Lalanne's highest grossing works at auction, Les Autruches bar (1967—1970) sold for US $7.2 million in 2017. One rendition of Lalanne's sheep for sale at Christie's in 2011 fetched US $7,474,500.
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2021