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PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED EUROPEAN COLLECTION
The present sheep (lots 112-113) are part of a flock executed in 1968 on the request of art dealer Alexandre Iolas as a wedding present to the artist Bill Copley. The Moutons de Laine have today become François-Xavier Lalanne’s best known and loved work. Originally presented with the title, "Pour Polypheme," Lalanne's flock recalled the passage in Homer's Odyssey where Ulysses and his comrades escape from the Cyclops Polyphemus' cave by clinging to the underbelly of his giant sheep even as the blinded ogre runs his hand over their woolly backs. The sheep are the perfect manifestation of Lalanne's mischievous and surrealist version of the tradition of art animalier, where mythology, metamorphosis and word play reign. The sheep seem a very fitting gift for Copley whose own life and art were deeply influenced by his friendship with the surrealists and the surrealist movement.
Working as a young reporter for his family’s newspaper, The Copley Press, Bill Copley was introduced to the Surrealist Man Ray in Los Angeles by his brother-in-law John Ployardt, a painter, animator and narrator for Walt Disney Studios. Longing for an involvement in the arts, in 1948 Copley and Ployardt set up a short-lived gallery in the city with the help of Man Ray promoting the art of the surrealists, including works by Man Ray, Rene Magritte, Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst and Joseph Cornell. The gallery, however, was plagued by financial problems and closed the following year. Copley began to focus increasingly on his own development as an artist and moved to Paris two years later, in 1951, where he later took a studio at the Impasse Ronsin. It was here that many other notable artists had their ateliers, among them Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne, who were Constantin Brancusi’s neighbors. Copley soon struck up a close relationship with the art dealer Alexandre Iolas, who was a champion of the major European Surrealists in the 1950s and who represented his work internationally. He also became the first dealer of Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne after their initial show at Galerie J in Paris in 1964. The here offered sheep were part of a larger set given to Copley to celebrate his wedding to his third wife Stella Yang in 1968.
François-Xavier Lalanne had originally introduced his iconic Moutons de Laine at the Salon de la Jeune Peinture in Paris, 1965, where they immediately attracted international attention. He placed his first flock of 24 sheep at the exhibition's entrance, documented by a notable photograph of artists and critics at the Salon lounging atop the docile ewes. By 1967, the sheep had been pictured in Parisian interiors in Life magazine, and would soon be found in the collections of Yves Saint Laurent and other impresarios, collectors and cultural figures. The Moutons de Laine were conceived at a pivotal time for the artist: in 1965 François-Xavier had just completed his first private commission, a wildly inventive bar for Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé which led, a few years later, to the gilt metal castings by his wife Claude Lalanne from the body of the model Verushka which were incorporated by the couturier in evening dresses for his "Empreintes" collection of 1969. For the next half century, François-Xavier and Claude, Les Lalanne as the two artists came to be known, created an unrivaled body of work. Their disconcerting yet seductive magical kingdom of fantastical beasts and luscious plants, characterized by humor, surprise and poetry--at once surreal and tender--established them as a preeminent artistic force of 20th century French art.