Introducing Les Lalanne, with works on offer at Freeman's November 17.
11/02/2021 News and Film, Modern and Contemporary Art
Coming from a prominent Washington, D.C. real estate and philanthropic family, the collection features five of François-Xavier Lalanne's epoxy stone and bronze Moutons de Pierre. Guarding the entrance to their home since the early 1990s, the sculptures have remained in the same family ever since they were acquired directly from the artist.
Devoted patrons of contemporary artists and keen collectors across many eclectic categories, the couple were first introduced to Les Lalanne in the late 1980s during a trip to New York City. At the suggestion of the family's fine art advisor, the artists visited the collectors' residence, and it is during this trip that the flock of sheep were ordered. A custom bench by Claude was also discussed at this time; however, the project did not ultimately materialize. The consecutively-numbered sheep joined a collection with a love of animals at its heart—visible not just in these works by Lalanne, but also in other artwork and architectural features found throughout the home.
Five Moutons de Pierre in Belmont Plateau in front of the Philadelphia skyline.
Les Lalanne—the duo of François-Xavier (1927-2008) and his co-creating wife Claude (1925-2019)—are artists and decorators, modernists and surrealists, producers of amusing works, yet also extremely technical, and thoughtful in their craft. Les Lalanne play an important role in the timeline of French 20th-century sculpture, inspired by the authenticity of nature, as well as the creative and enigmatic world of surrealism. Yet their work resists stylistic labels, conjuring wide appeal by bringing a sense of magic to the everyday. "François-Xavier and Claude marry ancient and modern techniques with the courage that distinguishes the artist from the artisan," stated Adrian Dannatt, "having created objects which defy serialization (...) and are essentially as individual and singular as every one of us."
Referred to as "Les Lalanne" from 1966 onwards, the duo were united in their inspiration from nature and belief that art should be "pour vivre avec" or "lived with." François-Xavier was born in 1945 in Agen, France and later relocated to Paris to attend the Académie Julian. Following a short marriage and stint as a guard at the Musée du Louvre, Lalanne moved to Impasse Rosin, an artistic enclave in Montparnasse that included neighbors such as Constantin Brancusi and James "Jimmy" Metcalf, among others. Brancusi in particular was a loyal friend and important influence on François-Xavier and later Claude. In addition to Brancusi encouraging Les Lalanne to stop working anonymously for profit and declare themselves as artists, one can draw a parallel between Brancusi's interpretation of simplified form, reduced to a "pure" expression of volume and line, and François-Xavier's minimalist lines and streamlined interpretations of animal forms.
François-Xavier Lalanne, Mouton de Pierre, designed 1979 and executed 1988, epoxy stone and patinated bronze | $100,000-150,000 each
In May of 1953, François-Xavier's first solo show of paintings opened at the Galerie Cimaise in Paris, and it is here that he first met Claude. The two became closely connected for the remainder of their lives, embracing a shared vision of art as something to be put to use—rejecting the elitist notion of "art" in favor of something belonging to the everyday "rather than roped off in a museum." The pair worked odd jobs throughout the 1950s, including the production of window displays for Dior, where they fatefully met Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, who became two of their most ardent lifelong supporters.
While François-Xavier and Claude exhibited together and no doubt discussed opinions surrounding individual projects, the pair largely maintained distinctly different styles and methods of production—François-Xavier with a calculated menagerie of architectural, stylized, and functional animal forms, while Claude tended toward the botanic and improvisational, often experimenting with galvanoplasty techniques. The resulting fantastical works are celebrated for their combination of lighthearted energy, whimsical ambiguity, and practical functionality.
In June of 1964, François-Xavier and Claude held their first joint solo show titled Zoophites, and by 1966, their exhibition calendar increased, culminating in a true "coup de foudre" with their first show at the Galerie Alexandre Iolas in Paris in October. While quixotic works such as Lalanne's oversized Rhinocéros II and Tortue-Bar were met with much acclaim in 1966, François-Xavier's flock of twenty-four wooly Moutons de Laine garnered rapturous reception.
Three Moutons de Pierre in Belmont Plateau.
From the beginning, Lalanne's Mouton series was considered both sculpture and furniture—conceptual, yet functional, and even comfortable. François-Xavier challenged the conventional definition of art and the common notion of how we are meant to interact with it. Declaring that the sheep "are not furniture, they are not sculpture, just call them Lalannes," he encouraged viewers to sit upon their backs rather than strictly admire them from afar. "...It's always easier to have a sculpture in an apartment than a real sheep. And it's even better if we can sit on it," he maintained.
Known for creating several versions of the same model, but varied in scale, materials or function, the scuptor executed another species of Mouton in 1979 in bronze and epoxy stone, which had the added versatility of being exhibited in a domestic interior or outdoors in a grassy field.
François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne were prolific from the 1950s until their respective deaths in 2008 and 2019. The 1966 exhibition at Galerie Iolas was the impetus for their international recognition, sparking several major international exhibitions over the following ten years, including their first overseas exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1967. Their popularity has been on a consistent crescendo over the past forty years—largely thanks to the consistent support of galleries such as Galerie Mitterrand, Ben Brown Fine Arts, and Kasmin Gallery, amongst others—and their recognition in the United States in particular has gained traction over the past 15 years via several landmark selling events and exhibitions.
François-Xavier befittingly proclaimed that "Art is like life, it's not all that serious," and whether it is this welcome lightheartedness, a passion for the surreal, an appreciation for the technical triumph, or a combination of all three, these works continue to enchant and entice collectors throughout the world.