A unique chandelier crafted by Lalanne for Hubert Givenchy, shows the artist’s affinity with the natural world
‘It looks like something that has been ready-made by nature,’ says Christie’s specialist Robin Beyries. He has been studying a Claude Lalanne chandelier from 2003, constructed from gilt bronze and copper as the centrepiece in a notable Parisian interior designed for a collector by Hubert Givenchy.
The piece goes on sale with lots from the pied-à-terre on 14 September that range from Picasso and Fernando Botero works to a pendule oursin clock by JAR and a Louis XVI dessert console. Beyries finds the chandelier a perfect embodiment of Claude Lalanne’s artistic project. ‘It is very useful, but always has that idea of something more poetic.’
The elements in this piece, including branches and butterflies, ‘started as organic matter’, he says. Claude Lalanne became adept at electroplating techniques, by which items often from her own garden such as leaves, twigs — and butterflies — were coated in copper then reworked by hand.
She profoundly influenced 20th-century collectible design alongside her husband Francois-Xavier; the two were known collectively as ‘Les Lalannes’. As a couple, ‘they were really into making art, but they were never really about making something too serious,’ Beyries says.
Two objets by Francois-Xavier in the form of his famous monkeys appear in the September sale – one singe attentif and the other singe allumé, as does a member of his beloved sheep series, Les Nouveaux Moutons. In addition there are two sets of ‘Teeny bell’ bronze card name holders.
Similarly, the Claude Lalanne chandelier, which measures 135 cm across, is ‘an object that makes the outside, the countryside, appear in your own home’.
The piece is both playful and functional thanks to its moveable and ornate ‘stems’, which can extend or retract the piece as the owner wishes — a feature both functional and playful. In appearing to grow like a plant from the ceiling, Beyries says, it suggests ‘reality inverted. And yet it remains very familiar.’
Salvador Dalí once commissioned a set of cutlery from Claude Lalanne, featuring alongside Magritte, Max Ernst and Man Ray in Les Lalanne’s artistic circle in postwar Montparnasse. The duo both embraced the surreal, and among Claude’s best known works is an electroplated cabbage standing on two chicken legs — immortalised on the Serge Gainsbourgh 1976 album L’Homme à Tête de Chou. A unique maquette of her ‘Choupatte’ is offered on 14 September.
Another remarkable factor in this collection of works is a maquette by the artist offered alongside the final chandelier. ‘These are extremely rare as far as we understand,’ says Beyries. ‘And it helps us to understand the inception of the piece and how this specific chandelier was built for this collector.’
The apartment’s owner requested butterflies, as opposed to birds, for instance. And the chandelier’s gilt bronze branches were set against yet more botanical shapes in the dining room — in the form of silk wall hangings, based on an 18th-century pattern discovered in archives by Givenchy and woven in Lyon specially for the apartment.
In fact, thinks Beyries, there is something ‘distinctively French’ about Claude Lalanne’s work, which speaks to the interior as a whole. ‘It has that idea of the very painstaking attention to detail, the minute idea of the process that you perfect again and again.’
In this, Claude’s work departs from that of her husband’s. Francois-Xavier was more engaged in antiquity and a sense of ‘majesty’, in particular artifacts from ancient Egypt, whereas Claude refined a sense of delicacy throughout her career.
Their working relationship was one of ‘cross-pollination’ rather than strictly collaborative, explains Beyries. ‘From time to time, they were using a model of their spouse and actually just changing it in order to make something new, but that only happened a few times.’
Fontaine Pleureuse, a 1983 epoxy stone, metal wire and ivy fountain by Francois-Xavier, for example, was brought to auction by Christie’s in 2010, featuring an isolated head motif that originated with Claude Lalanne’s La Dormeuse.
In contrast to her husband, she was also known for drawing on flora rather than fauna. Though there are butterflies on her chandelier, says Beyries, they suggest autumn foliage, ‘so even when she’s touching the realm of the animals, she’s always using it with her own technique, and in a very different way.’
Beyries agrees that the chandelier feels fresh today, many months into a pandemic. ‘We’ve been dreaming about the outside,’ he says. Its natural cast also means that, ‘despite being a very luxurious piece, it’s something that looks approachable in many ways.’
‘All her chandeliers are unique, but this is one of the biggest and one of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen at Christie’s.’