The bestiary created by the Lalannes is worth millions

The whimsical design creations of the late French surrealist artists Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne have infiltrated the world‘s most important interiors. Today they works are worth millions.

Almost like in a fairy tale, Claude (1924-2019) made herself at home in the vegetal world and François-Xavier (1927-2008) in the animal kingdom, but both ruled with a shared taste for poetry and wit. They created a unique surreal universe of functional fauna and flora inhabited by nettles, gingko leaves, sheep, rabbits, and all sorts of eccentric creatures. Working side by side without rivalry, the pair became so complementary that they soon simply became “the Lalannes”. Although they have been cherished from their beginnings by an exclusive circle of friends and patrons, the last two decades has seen prices progressively soaring and today their works command lofty six figures prices at auctions, making them the most valuable designers on the art market.

How did every successful businessman or woman, every salon-holding socialite, come to dream of a rhino-desk, sheep-chairs, fish-knives, and bronze cabbages on chicken legs? 

“The prices for their works have never been so high which is an undeniably important sign for collectors, but beyond the financial consideration, the Lalannes have created a unique universal language that is in complete tune with the times we are living in, between a sculpture and the practical work of designers” explains Sebastien Carvalho, director of the Galerie Mitterand which has been representing the work of the couple since 1990.  

François-Xavier Lalanne et manufacture de Sèvres Bar Les Autruches, 1967-1970
François-Xavier Lalanne et manufacture de Sèvres Bar Les Autruches, 1967-1970. Estimate: 700,000 – 1,000,000 EUR. Lot sold: 7,288,098 USD. Record: second highest price for the artist. Courtesy Sotheby’s/ArtDigital Studio

Indeed, one only needs to think about the difference between the last two landmark estate sales to grasp this collectors’ frenzy. In October 2019, Sotheby’s auctioned the sale of the estate of Claude Lalanne. In two days, all 274 lots were successfully sold for an impressive grand total of € 91,338,71. Two years later, in November 2021, Sotheby’s auctioned the sale of the collection of Dorothée Lalanne (the couple’s eldest daughter). Six hours later, countless paddles fought for the 81 lots resulting white glove sale totaling the vertiginous price of €79,318,220 with 26 lots selling above the million and two price records (‘Le Minotaure’ that sold for €7,978,200 and a few lots after ‘Leopard I’ that sold for €8,322,900) – A landmark sale for decorative art.

The Lalannes have created a unique universal language that is in complete tune with the times we are living in.

To understand the rise of interest in the Lalanne one needs to retrace the story of their market.

After a first exhibition with Jeanine Restany’s gallery in Paris in 1964, the Lalanne made their entrance in the art world with Alexandre Iola in 1966. And  quite the entrance it was!. A ‘herd’ of twenty-four sheep that could be used as stools barged into the Salon de la jeune peinture. Entitled Pour Polyphème, a reference to Ulysses’s and his companions’ escape from the Cyclope under the cover of a herd of sheep, the Lalanne’s arrival in the art world was just like their work itself: joyful, full of wit and irresistible. 


From there they went on to be exhibited in New York, Geneva and Athens from 1965 to 1979 before starting their collaboration with the galerie Mitterand. Collectors were friends, intellectuals and socialites… Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely, Marx Ernst, Valentino, Serge Gainsbourg, Gunter Sachs and of course Yves Saint Laurent and Peter Marino. At this point their prices were relatively modest as decorative art was still considered quite minor. It is important to note the groundwork laid by these galleries which supported the artists by placing their work in the most prestigious collections and revealing them to a wider audience  by  means of exhibitions. One of the them was the enchanting ‘Les Lalannes à Bagatelle’ organized by the galerie Mitterand in 1998 or, much later, the appearance of sheep and choupattes (walking bronze cabbage) on Park Avenue with Paul Kasmin in 2009. 

The turning point was the sale of the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé collection which paved the way for the Lalanne’s international market. With the exception of Andy Warhol’s portraits of the French couturier, Claude and François-Xavier were the only contemporary artists to feature in the prestigious collection. The results were attention-getting to say the least. The bar by François-Xavier – commissioned right after the first Lalanne exhibition in 1964 – fetched 
€ 2,753,000 and the set of fifteen mirrors commissioned in 1974 to Claude Lalanne to adorn the salon de musique sold for € 1,857,000.

Claude Lalanne, Choupatte (très grand), 2012
Claude Lalanne, Choupatte (très grand), 2012, patinated bronze. Monogrammed C.L., hallmarked LALANNE, dated 2012 and numbered 7/8 on one foot, 117 x 135 cm; 46 x 53 ⅛ inches. Lot sold: € 2.172.500 / $ 2.414.669. Courtesy Sotheby’s/ArtDigital Studio

Suddenly their creations were sought by a growing number of collectors. “All of the sudden the phone started to ring” says Sebastien. Unfortunately, François-Xavier did not live to see this success and “Perhaps the differences that initially existed between the prices were due to the passing away of François-Xavier a year earlier, which quickly gave a sense of rarity to his creations” adds Sebastien.

From there the works by Lalanne were discovered by a much larger audience in the United States and more recently in Asia. Sales of outstanding collections such as the one of Jacques Granges became more and more frequent at auction driving prices increasingly high.

Initially, the most iconic work were ‘Les Moutons’ (the sheep) in all their variations. However, the last five years saw the collector’s taste evolve towards more sophisticated creations such as the ‘Minotaure’ which is not immediately identifiable as a work by Les Lalannes. The works that are starting to appear at auction are not rare (they are part of editions); many of them have even already been exhibited by galleries but it is clear that the market has now reached a new stage of maturity. Furthermore, this market – at auction or in galleries – still has good days ahead as numerous works have remained in prestigious private hands (including the other three daughters of the artists) that might be tempted to join the party and sell them.

François-Xavier Lalanne, Leopardo I, 2005
François-Xavier Lalanne, Leopard I, 2005, patinated and gilded bronze, stained ash. Lot sold: € 8.322.900. Courtesy Sotheby’s/ArtDigital Studio

Their works of audacity are to the republic of objects what the pun is to the republic of words (…) This cocktail a dash of magic, a dash of humour, plenty of upheaval, an engineer’s skill- goes to the head of the refined. 

François Nourrissier, Introduction to the exhibition catalogue “Les Lalannes” at the Galerie Alexandre Iolas in Paris, 1966.

Voluntarily The Lalanne always avoided any categorization of their opus by constantly undulating between a work of art and a functional object. Their creation almost act like wise buffoons, full of humor and ultimately making them indispensable to any interior not wanting to take itself too seriously.

From Paris to New York, the collectors find themselves irresistibly seduced by this playful poetry that knows no borders or timeline. Perhaps that is precisely the magic of art. Such success may look like a sudden full bloom to the newcomer; yet, it is the result of 60 years of work between the artists and collectors, gallerists, patrons, auction house specialists, museums and perhaps this is the other secret. 

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