I remember the moment when I was asked to consider being a part of the Lalanne project, to create images for the book, Lalanne. Initially I was unaware of the great French sculptors, François-Xavier, and Claude Lalanne, but after researching, I immediately accepted, saying that I would be honored. Traveling to France I was privileged to spend several days with the couple at their atelier outside Paris, and adored them right away. I met their family and spent time walking around the barns, privy to all the nooks and crannies of the property, everywhere touched by genius.
Spending one-on-one time with François and Claude was a memorable experience to say the least. I observed amazed, as Claude handled large bronze crocodile pieces with ease, welding away, forming the most sophisticated works of art before my eyes. Francois and I worked together setting up shots in the atelier, his hardworking solderers assisting him as he created his own spectacular pieces.
The moment François and I came upon the Mouflon desk was life changing. He delicately placed Claude’s small bronze cabbage with chicken feet on top of this wondrous desk. I was mesmerized, instantly falling in love with a work of art. I impulsively told Francois that I must have this desk, that I wanted it to be in my presence always. I remember this moment like it was yesterday. I told him it must be this very desk. He looked at me with his bright eyes and a sly grin on his face, a look I will never forget.
In the afternoons, sitting at their table in the kitchen, before the tarts Claude would bake and all the local cheeses from the surrounding farms, we would eat together. I couldn’t stop thinking of the desk. After the project was complete I understood the expression on Francois’s face. I was able to accrue that very desk and have lived with it, with love and gratitude. This desk contains many stories of its own, and so many memories for me, feelings of the spirit and joy of François, every time I have looked at it. It has inspired me to work, to create art myself.
Now it’s time to share this desk with another. I have loved it and cherished it all these years and will always have everlasting thoughts of my time with the artist, and the Great Mouflon.
Thanks François-Xavier for the memories.
President, Steven Sebring Studio, New York.
I clearly remember the first time Steven Sebring brought me to his studio to see the desk. I was enthralled, and instantly imagined sitting before it, writing. The concept of composing upon a work of art intrigued me. Every time I visited him, I confess I looked at the desk longingly.
When I was finishing a book called Devotion, wrestling with the introductory prose poem, Steven offered that I sit at the desk to finish it. Delighted, I opened my notebook on the green leather blotter. Drawn into its atmosphere, I felt extremely focused, and accomplished my goal. Steven photographed the manuscript page on the desk, and we used it for the cover of Devotion.
I am grateful to have had the experience of writing on the desk of the great French sculptor. A desk containing his power, humility, and humor.
A desk to cherish, a desk to inspire.
Whilst collectively known as Les Lalanne, the work of Francois-Xavier Lalanne and that of his wife Claude is best considered and recognised as two separate artistic careers running in tandem. Although there are examples of collaboration - informed by their mutual love of nature - their works are in reality cocreations, with the distinctness of Claude’s broad focus on vegetal works offsetting her husband’s playful and bold reinterpretation of the animalistic world. Their distinctive and expressive language reflects their parallel journey of artistic evolution – one that is woven alongside, adjacent to, that of their artist compatriots. Les Lalanne constructed their own realm, where Surrealism, Nouveau Réalisme, fantasy and anthropomorphism synthesise as a whimsical and poetic combination of the applied and fine arts. Les Lalanne lived a life out-of-step with contemporary influences – the post-war art scene in Paris had long been dominated by abstraction – and joyfully embraced determining their own parallel paths, developing a visual language that was guided by personalised idiom that defied normal categorisation.
François-Xavier Lalanne deliberately blurred the boundaries between artist and craftsman, choosing instead to balance an invisible, indefinable line between the two. His fascination with the study of animal forms was rooted in his childhood, since from a young age he enjoyed drawing a variety of animals he had seen at the zoo. The place of animal sculpture is central, even essential, in his repository, finding inexhaustible inspiration in forms present in nature. His work manages to combine the secular approach of animal bronzes - from Barye to Pompon via Sandoz and Rembrandt Bugatti - with the modernity and singularity of a simple line, which constitutes his signature, and for which all his preparatory drawings already reveal a full understanding of the subject. His approach to sculpture, however, developed after an initial training as a young artist. He professed a profound admiration for the animalistic sculpture of François Pompon, having been married to the artist’s great-great-niece for a short time in 1948. Over the winter of 1948-1949 he took a job as security guard at the Musée du Louvre and became particularly interested in works shown from Egypt, Mesopotamia and Ancient Rome, spending hours processing the shape, lines and specific stylisation of the work he saw, his mind registering the foundations of his future artistic vocabulary. He later recalled: ‘I spent most of my time looking at sculpture, contemplating it … My visual memory is good. Ultimately I was like a photographer, my eyes took over a thousand pictures of the Venus de Milo and the Apis Bull.’ (D. Abadie, Lalanne(s), Italy, 2008, p. 295).
Despite having won first prize from the Académie Julian and holding an exhibition of his paintings at the Galerie Cimaise on Boulevard Raspail in Paris, François-Xavier Lalanne decided to abandon painting in 1952. He turned his back on the medium explaining simply that, for him, ‘la peinture, c’est foutu’. He met Claude in the same year and the two artists gradually made a name for themselves on the Parisian scene, working on various interior design projects and window displays for Christian Dior, allowing them to hone their range of production techniques. The couple moved into a small studio on the Impasse Ronsin, now recognised as a legendary community of artists in this corner of Montparnasse, where they moved in an eclectic artistic microcosm that included Constantin Brancusi (a major inspiration and a friend that they would see every day), Max Ernst, Magritte, Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint-Phalle amongst many others. Although the Lalannes mixed with the New Realist group, they did not adhere to the group’s manifesto, steadfastly retaining their artistic independence. Shortly after Brancusi’s death in 1957, the studios in the Impasse Ronsin were demolished and the Lalannes moved into a new studio on the Impasse Robiquet. It was here, using a welding machine bought jointly with Jean Tinguely, that François-Xavier Lalanne developed his very first real sculpture, the Rhino-Crétaire, subsequently exhibited at Jeanine Goldschmidt and Pierre Restany’s Galerie J in 1964. The aesthetic spirit was already striking, so too the technique – a personalised universe, one in which his sculpture drew little distinction between artistic expression and quasiutilitarian objects. This first exhibition was a success and earned him several extremely positive critical reviews, and was followed by a continued growth of their international reputation under the partnership with the legendary gallerist Alexander Iolas.
Their first exhibition with Iolas was at his Paris gallery in 1966, and was followed by their first American exhibition with the presentation of a selection of their works at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1967, which was then relocated to the New York Iolas gallery later that year. Since then they exhibited globally and continuously, forming a core vanguard in the creation of a poetic, playful fantasy world, which garnered, and continues to attract, devotees from a range of seminal collectors and international patrons, including Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé, Gunther Sachs, Peter Marino, and many others. The current work, Grand Mouflon de Pauline, enclosing a desk, is from the first (2006) edition of the model initially created in 1993. It comes from the collection of acclaimed photographer, filmmaker and producer Steven Sebring, whose numerous credits and awards include those for the documentary Dream of Life, which followed icon Patti Smith through the course of 11 years, and he is today noted for his continued experimentation with interactive imagery. The piece was purchased at the time Sebring was preparing and researching for the 2006 book, Claude & François-Xavier Lalanne, during which Sebring spent an extended period filming and photographing the artists and their work, and since then it has been prominently placed in his New York studio.
Whilst certain works by François-Xavier Lalanne convey great strength and power, Mouflon de Pauline is a graceful work with a distinct elegance of form. The fleeting backward glance of the Mouflon (a wild sheep) is rendered within a simple yet refined structure. The final form is characteristic and encapsulates the underlying emphasis of François-Xavier Lalanne’s work, the exploration of forms and creatures that escape from their interior surroundings, invading and overtly imbuing the space in which they are placed with a new dimension. This is performed here with a subtle synthesis of charm, wit and impact, the latter not only by bringing an outside animal ‘inside’, but by giving an instantly recognisable animalistic form an additional and hidden function, in this case a desk. The magical kingdom of fantastical beasts imagined and created by Francois -Xavier Lalanne – epitomised with the simultaneously surreal and tender Mouflon de Pauline – established Les Lalanne as a preeminent artistic force of 20th and 21st century French art.