91,3 million euros
It’s one of the most breathtaking results of 2019: 4100 bidders from 43 countries. 100% of the 244 lots were sold for a total of 91.3 million euros.
A success that took the form of a global tidal wave. Never has Sotheby’s sold a collection for such a sum in Paris. On 23 and 24 October 2019 the auction house presented part of the collection (while two times the amount still remains) and contents of the home of the artist Claude Lalanne (1924-2019) situated at Ury near Fontainebleau.
Bestiary and fauna
In a period of international gloominess, the witty bestiary and dreamlike fauna conceived by François-Xavier (1924-2019) and his wife Claude Lalanne are stunningly successful at auction.
This only confirmed the figures from 21 and 22 November 2017, also at Sotheby’s Paris, when on the occasion of the sale of one part of the collection of interior designer Jacques Grange, among others, there was a Sèvres porcelain bar composed of two ostriches by Lalanne which attained the record price of 6.2 million euros. Jacques Grange, a designer favoured by Yves Saint Laurent, among others, helped support the market for Lalanne in the early days. He says: “The garden at their home-studio in Ury had an Alice in Wonderland feel about it which fascinated visitors.
I would go there with Yves Saint Laurent or Karl Lagerfeld. Marie Hélène and Guy de Rothschild bought works from them very early on. Claude’s most remarkable pieces were those inspired by flora in an art-nouveau spirit, whereas François-Xavier excelled at imagining such “useful animals” as the two ostriches whose wings lift up to reveal a bar, while the egg in the middle conceals an ice bucket.”
While this was the piece that obtained the record price, there are six other copies of it including one in the collections at the Musée de Sèvres, while another is in the room designed by Pierre Paulin at the Élysée Palace, commissioned by French President Georges Pompidou, and yet another version belongs to Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.
Prices of the art world
A Greek collector, Liana Mavromatis, now deceased, acquired the “record” version for her house on Mykonos. Jacques Grange had bought it in 2005 at auction for 128,300 euros. This means that Lalanne has soared in value. Today’s prices correspond to those of the art world rather than that of the decorative arts.
On that subject Florent Jeanniard, an expert at Sotheby’s, explains: “the Lalannes are unclassifiable”. He was the one who orchestrated the sale in October 2019.
He points out: “the legendary New York gallerist Leo Castelli had already displayed their work in 1974 alongside the furnishings of American artists John Chamberlain and Donald Judd.”
Claude Lalanne herself
During an interview in 2013 Claude Lalanne told me about her beginnings. “Everything was fusional with François-Xavier. My husband drew. I preferred to make models.” They lived in the Impasse Ronsin in the 15th arrondissement. Their neighbours were Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely, and the giant of modern sculpture, Constantin Brancusi: “He often felt lonely. In the evenings he would come over to our house with prunes and colourful Sobranie cigarettes.”
Their career was kickstarted in the 1970s with Alexandre Iolas, a gallerist based in Paris and New York who also championed René Magritte and Niki de Saint Phalle.
Bergé Saint Laurent auction
The second fundamental step in establishing their market was the Bergé Saint Laurent sale in 2009 in Paris at Christie’s, which was when a metal bar with surrealist shapes (egg, horn, tube) by François-Xavier sold for 2.7 million euros, while a series of fifteen metal mirrors with motifs of vegetation by Claude, a special commission for YSL’s legendary apartment, went for 1.7 million euros.
Kasmin, Brown and Mitterrand
Since then, three dealers have been tasked by Claude Lalanne with overseeing the commercial side and protecting the interests of the couple’s creative output: Paul Kasmin in New York, Ben Brown in London and Hong Kong and Jean-Gabriel Mitterrand in Paris.
Jean Gabriel Mitterrand
Every other year since then they have been staging Lalanne exhibitions. “The couple infused their objects with a very specific spirit. They perfectly encapsulated the great French taste in its 20th century form,” sums up Jean-Gabriel Mitterrand, who had known them since 1975.
Today the most popular pieces in the Lalanne ecosystem are the sheep by François-Xavier. According to the Sotheby’s expert “the bronze models, covered in wool, are all separate pieces of which most likely around 200 copies were made. They were trading for 200,000 francs in 1999. Today their average price is around 500,000 euros.”
L’homme à tête de chou
As for Claude Lalanne, she achieved fame of a largely French variety thanks to a bronze piece of a man with a cabbage for a head which inspired Serge Gainsbourg in the eponymous song (« Je suis l’homme à tête de chou, moitié légume, moitié mec », “I am the man with the cabbage head, half guy half vegetable from the neck”).
There’s the avian version of the piece, the “Choupatte”, a cabbage planted on chicken’s legs, which has become an iconic work within the sculptor’s oeuvre. During the Lalanne sale, one of these strange bronze creatures, issued in 8 copies on a large scale (117 x 135cm), sold for 2.1 million euros. Its price was, according to Florent Jeanniard, less than half of that five years earlier.
Finally we should mention one of the major architects of the success of the Lalannes outside of France: the interior designer Peter Marino. He introduced a large number of their objects into American collections and also into Dior’s boutiques, in China among other places.
In Miami during the Art Basel Miami Beach fair in December 2019 an exhibition opened as a tribute to the Lalanne couple with 32 pieces in the garden of a hotel undergoing building works, by the sea, the Raleigh. There you could see, staged by Peter Marino, the “Mouton transhumant”, the “Poisson paysage”, the “Vache bien établie” or the “Fontaine pleureuse”.
Jane Holzer, Michael Shvo
The majority belong to three Americans who are some of the biggest collectors in the world according to Jean Gabriel Mitterrand: the interior designer Peter Marino, Jane Holzer who is famous for being one of Andy Warhol’s muses, along with real estate developer Michael Shvo.
The Clark Institute
Next summer the very select Clark Institute, a major museum in Massachusetts, will be devoting an exhibition to the couple.
As Cécile Verdier head of Christie’s Paris explains, “at a time of increasing environmental awareness the Lalannes wittily address the joys of the natural world”.
The Lalanne market hasn’t stopped climbing gracefully, like the ivy that Claude was so good at reproducing in metal.
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