Who is Les Lalanne? Odds are that you have seen some of their artwork in your lifetime. Les Lalanne is the moniker of husband and wife artistic duo François-Xavier Lalanne and Claude Lalanne. Their whimsical work, their lifetime of collaboration is the last of a generation of avant-garde artists from Paris post World War II. Francois unfortunately died in 2008, but his wife Claude at 90, is still working going into her studio every day.
The work of Claude and Francois-Xavier Lalanne defies an easy categorisation. It is at the same time surrealist, classical, contemporary, fine art, decorative art, functional design and let’s just say, whimsical objets. Claude also dabbled in tableware and jewelry making.
Francois-Xavier was born in Agen, France and at 18, moved to Paris to study sculpture, drawing and painting. He met Claude Lalanne at his first gallery show in 1952. The show signified an end of painting for Francois-Xavier as he and Claude began their career of sculpting together.
Claude Lalanne was born in Paris and studied architecture. She involved herself in the artist community in Impasse Ronsin, Montparnasse, Paris and became friends with American artists Larry Rivers and Jimmy Metcalf who helped her develop the art of electro-plating.
While Les Lalanne shared a studio and exhibited together throughout their careers, their oeuvres are entirely distinctive. Claude’s work takes on a more sinuous and ethereal form, depicting flora and fauna evocative of the art nouveau movement. Francois-Xavier’s work included the animal kingdom such as sheep, rhinoceroses, gorillas, bears and crocodiles. Out of these animal forms he designed desks, tables, chairs, stools and cabinets. Each piece bringing a practical sense of whimsical delight into each space they occupy. While Claude tackled the intricacies of tableware and jewelry, François-Xavier favored the outsized.
Known individually and collectively since the 1960s, Les Lalanne developed a style that defines inventive, poetic and surrealist sculpture. Having rediscovered the Renaissance art of casting forms from life, then employing contemporary electro-plating techniques, Claude Lalanne achieves a delicacy and sensitivity in her work unparalleled in cast bronze. François-Xavier Lalanne similarly found inspiration for his works in nature. In his words, “The animal world constitutes the richest and most varied forms on the planet.” His subjects consist of a menagerie of animals, stylized forms oftentimes married with functionality. His works achieve streamlined elegance in their profound simplicity.
The couple would often reminisce of their times living next door to Constantin Brancusi while traveling in the same circles as Rene Magritte, Max Ernst, Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp. Two of their very loyal collectors (among many) were Yves Saint-Laurent and his partner, Pierre Berge. Today the new collectors read like a who’s who in the fashion and design world. Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford and Reed Krakoff are just a few of the names that come to mind.
The rhinoceros desk created by Francois-Xavier in 1964 was called Rhinocretaire. This is a piece I have coveted for years, I think I would use it as a bar.
In recent years, the works of Les Lalanne have been exhibited in different venues in New York City. In 2009, (arranged before Francois-Xavier died) the artist duo participated in Park Avenue Recession Art, an effort developed by the Paul Kasmin Gallery, the New York City Parks Department’s public art division and the Fund for Park Avenue Sculpture Committee. The project involved a series of sculptures in between crosswalks on Park Avenue. The pieces featured were a bronze apple called “Pomme de New York” on 52nd Sstreet, “Moutons” on 53rd Street, “Choupatte (Tres Grand) on 56th Street and “Singe Avise (Tres Grand)” on 58th Street, which was Francois-Xavier’s last sculpture.
Below are some other examples of their work.
Though Francois-Xavier did give jewelry design a try, of the two, it was Claude that designed jewelry throughout her career. The success of both Claude’s sculpture and jewelry is in part due to her mastery of electroplating. She designed and made jewelry for Yves Saint-Laurent’s catwalk models. Her jewelry does come up for auction on occasion.
Gilt snake brooch by Claude Lalanne, 1924.
Claude Lalanne gilt clips.
Claude Lalanne gilt Hortensia flower earrings.
Claude Lalanne gilt Hortensia bracelet.
Claude Lalanne gilt Mistletoe necklace.