More than 100 works by the artist couple François-Xavier Lalanne (1927–2008) and Claude Lalanne (1924–2019), better known as Les Lalanne, will fill two venues in Mayfair in an exhibition staged by Ben Brown Fine Arts this spring.
Les Lalanne: Makers of Dreams runs from April 28-July 29 in Ben Brown’s gallery and Claridge’s ArtSpace, both in Brook’s Mews.
Brown, who has represented Les Lalanne for nearly two decades, has organised many exhibitions of their works. As the first one since Claude’s death in 2019, he has ramped things up in a bid to celebrate the history of the couple with works dating back to the 1960s and capitalising on their premium spot in the market.
“Interest in Les Lalanne has never been greater”, he tells ATG. “I have been putting together the works in this exhibition for several years and now that we are physically able to have people in the galleries it seemed like the perfect time.”
It is an ambitious project, marketed as the most extensive show since the couple’s major retrospective at the Museé des Arts Décoratifs in 2010.
Plenty of familiar works will feature in Makers of Dreams, from a great blue Hippopotame I (François- Xavier, 1998) to the surreal Choupatte (Claude, 2014).
These have been organised (in the words of the gallery, “choreographed”) across the two spaces by Italian designer Manfredi della Gherardesca. Some will ‘float’ in the gallery, done up to look like the night sky, while “the pure bright white of Claridge’s ArtSpace is a vision of Heaven”, Brown says.
This might seem over the top, but one could argue that when it comes to Les Lalanne it was ever thus.
The pair met in the early 1950s and began sculpting together, though they retained different styles throughout their careers. As a general rule Claude was inspired by the botanical world, while François-Xavier was sparked by the animal kingdom.
Their creations were both functional and wound through with elements of humour and surrealism.
In the 1960s they rose to prominence when they were commissioned by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé. Over the years they added other high-profile names to their list of collectors: Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford and Peter Marino to name a few.
Brown himself started collecting their works before staging his first exhibition of their work in 2007 (his last was in 2018. Claude celebrated her 93rd birthday on the evening of the opening).
The another major shift in their market came in 2009, says Brown, with the legendary auction of the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé collection at Christie’s Paris.
He says: “Their phenomenal collection – the result of a longstanding and close relationship between Saint-Laurent, Pierre Berge and Les Lalanne – included a spectacular Salon de Miroirs by Claude and François-Xavier’s unique Bar YSL. Both of these works achieved prices over 10 times the reserve prices and sent the Lalanne market skyrocketing.
“In the years since, their market has continued to climb, and as François-Xavier passed away in 2008 and Claude recently in 2019, the supply of their works is finite and collector interest stronger than ever.”
Last year, an auction record was set for Claude when her Structure végétale chandelier was knocked down for €3.1m (£2.65m).
Later in the year, following the openings of major exhibitions in the Clark Museum in the US and Château de Versailles in France, a white-glove sale at Sotheby’s Paris of the collection of one of the artist’s daughters achieved five times its estimate, totalling €81m for 81 lots. Twenty of these went over €1m. It also included two records for Francois- Xavier, the higher one for Leopard I (2005) selling for €8.32m.
It is not a bad time to be selling Les Lalanne.
Prices in the show range from €50,000 to several million. There is also a selection of jewellery designed by Claude since the 1960s which starts at €10,000.
“Claude and François created a universe for themselves and for everyone who comes in contact with it, which is full of humour, fantasy, and the natural world”, Brown says.
“They lived and worked and created among this surreal menagerie. Their works have universal appeal.”