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Property from an Important European Private Collection

'Hippopotame II' Bar, 1978

'Hippopotame II' Bar, 1978
patinated bronze, stainless steel, copper, nickel silver, brass, painted wood
39 3/8 x 78 3/4 x 31 1/2 in. (100 x 200 x 80 cm) (closed)
58 1/4 x 83 1/2 x 36 1/4 in. (148 x 222 x 92 cm) (open)
monogrammed FXL, stamped LALANNE, dated 78, and numbered 1/8
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner, 21 November 1978
A. Iolas, Les Lalannes, exh. cat., Galerie Alexandre Iolas, Paris, 1967, n.p. (for 'Hippopotame I').
P. d'Elme, "Histoire des Lalannes" in Cimaise, January 1970, p. 61 (for 'Hippopotame I').
“Uno Zoo da Favola” in Vogue Italia, April 1970, pp. 146-147 (for 'Hippopotame I').
J. Russell, Les Lalanne, Paris, 1975, pp. 19 (the artist Kim Hamisky, son-in-law of Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne, sitting atop 'Hippopotame I') and 74 (for 'Hippopotame I').
Les Lalanne: Domesticated beasts & other creatures, exh. cat., Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1976, p. 7 (for 'Hippopotame I').
"News Report" in Progressive Architecture, December 1978, pp. 29-30 (for 'Hippopotame I').
D. Marchesseau, The Lalannes, Paris, 1998, inside cover, p. 86.
Claude & François-Xavier Lalanne, exh. cat., Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York and Ben Brown Fine Arts, London, 2006, pp. 82-83.
D. Abadie, Lalanne(s), Paris, 2008, pp. 110-112.
Les Lalanne, exh. cat., Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, 2010, pp. 46 (for 'Hippopotame I').
P. Kasmin, Claude & François-Xavier Lalanne: Art, Work, Life, New York, 2012, n.p.
A. Dannatt, ed., Les Lalanne: Fifty Years of Work 1964-2015, exh. cat., Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York, 2015, p. 72.
A. Dannatt, François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne: In the Domain of Dreams, New York, 2018, pp. 70-73.

Brought to you by

Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York

Lot Essay

Through their masterful and unique sculptural exploration of the natural world, François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne have contributed significantly to a broader understanding of Surrealism, the movement first defined in André Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism of 1924. Surrealism was a dialogue between the conscious and the unconscious. Freud’s work into dreams and sexual fantasy influenced an international group of artists eager to explore the real and the imaginary and to engage the sub-conscience in the creative process. This submersion into the irrational, unchartered territories of the mind produced works that were provocative, ambiguous, unsettling and humorous.

François-Xavier Lalanne’s monumental bronze Hippopotame II from 1978, configured as a bar on the interior, places his work in a direct line of succession to the Surrealist masters. Composed of curved planes with articulated anatomy and hinged compartments, the work is a nod to Max Ernst’s seminal painting The Elephant Celebes (1921) depicting a colossal, rotund mechanical beast. Lalanne’s grand-scale mammalian sculpture playfully engages themes of social revelries and perhaps myth. While moonlighting as a guard at the Louvre Museum, Lalanne developed an appreciation for sculpture of the ancient world. Perhaps he contemplated the Egyptian goddess Taweret, who took the form of a fantastic hippo. The humorous notion of a protective animal figure, who spends most of its life submerged, now reimagined as a guardian of a liquor cabinet, plays light-heartedly to social behaviors and psychology. With a remarkable balance of art to functionality, Hippopotame II creates its own unique, interactive environment, a living space – both familiar and fantastic.

Resistant to labeling, the Surrealists explored all mediums. The boundaries of art dissolved in the development of a surrealist style adopting the object as subject and as a principal vehicle for new meaning. But, unlike the sardonic and commodified object of Surrealism, such as Meret Oppenheim’s iconic Le Déjeuner en fourrure (1936) and Salvador Dali’s Lobster Telephone (1936), the Lalannes often created their objects in bronze, adhering to the refined casting techniques of the Renaissance. Their sophisticated technical approach was counter-balanced by an ethereal dream-like quality which seems to inhabit much of their work. Surrealist sculptural design cast in bronze, however, was not the exclusive domain of this artistic couple. Oppenheim’s bronze Table with Bird’s Leg from the inaugural 1939 exhibition of Leo Castelli and René Drouin’s Parisian gallery, is a clear antecedent to Claude’s celebrated bronze work Choupatte, in the form of a cabbage raised on bird’s feet.

The role of animals in Surrealism offers a visual language that is both an engagement with Darwinian theory and a critique of anthropocentrism. Dali’s Le Bestiaire, along with his collaborations with filmmaker Luis Buñuel, assume an uncanny, provocative posture, while the works of Leonora Carrington and Dora Maar embrace a radical, feminine empathy with animals. Dali and François-Xavier, who knew each other, shared a fascination for the rhinoceros, not coincidentally the beast associated with Eugène Ionesco’s 1959 play Rhinocéros. Inheriting Surrealism’s affinity with the natural world, Les Lalanne, as they are known, invite the viewer to meditate in a cultivated garden of flora and fauna. Mystery keeps the rational experience at bay while poetic discovery unfolds to inspire and dream but not to frighten.

Their oeuvre is not restricted to the whimsical world. A somber, enigmatic side emerges in Claude’s bronze Cendriers Pieds Lotus, 1978, a series of bronze-cast dismembered human toes recalling René Magritte’s painting Le Model Rouge, 1934, where a pair of work boots morph unexpectedly into toes. Her Portrait of Iolas, 1974, a life-cast bronze head flanked by animal mandibles forming an architectural frame, creates a disturbing tension evoking both Alberto Giacometti and the fetishism of Wilfredo Lam. This transmigration from the ordinary into the extraordinary is a hallmark of Surrealism.

The demolition of boundaries has become fundamental to modern and contemporary ideas about art making. Les Lalanne forged a unique path of artistic creation. Their extensive body of work is both highly engaging and relevant to the dialectic in the changing complexity of modern art in the twentieth century and beyond.

– Karen Hayward, Independent Art Advisor, Academic Lecturer

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