In memoriam: fantastical French sculptor and designer Claude Lalanne (1924-2019)

In memoriam: fantastical French sculptor and designer Claude Lalanne (1924-2019)
Leading lights  -   Artists

French artist Claude Lalanne, who achieved cult status with her whimsical sculptures, furniture, jewelry and cutlery, often depicting flora and fauna and animals, recently passed away in Fontainebleau at the age of 93. Her death was announced by her Paris dealer Jean-Gabriel Mitterrand, who likened her to “a stronghold against bad taste and pretentiousness,” adding that “she had the simplicity of those artists who make things with their hands, building a poetic world unto themselves.”

Claude Lalanne formed half of the beloved artist-duo with her late husband, François-Xavier (1927–2008), known for their magical menagerie of rhinos and rabbits, sheep and monkeys. Working side by side but not collaboratively, “Les Lalanne,” as they were collectively known, frequently showed their work together.

Claude Lalanne’s fantastical sculptures resonated with Surrealist objects, notably her monumental bronze apple and her huge cabbage sculpture with chicken feet as well as her benches fashioned from bronze crocodiles. One of her most famous works is a sculpture of a man with a cabbage head (1968), which inspired Serge Gainsbourg’s eponymous album L’Homme à tête de chou and graced the album cover in 1976. Much of graceful jewelry, furniture and mirrors, which often evoke the Art Nouveau style, seem to be woven from sinuous branches, leaves and flowers; a pioneer of the electroplating process, she transformed leaves, twigs, petals, berries and other organic materials into copper. 

Starting in the 1960s, Lalanne frequently collaborated with designer Yves Saint Laurent, notably creating gowns for his autumn-winter haute couture collection in 1969; the collection memorably included her famous casts of the model Veruschka’s bustier in galvanized copper, which he added to his diaphanous chiffon dresses, one black and one blue. Over the years, she also created “wearable art” for Saint Laurent, intricate jewelry – copper tiaras, floral headpieces, finger jewelry and gilded copper hand sheaths. The designer also invited her to fill the drawing room in his apartment on the rue Babylone with mirrors. “What touches me about her is that she is able to combine the same standards of craftsmanship and poetry,” Saint Laurent once wrote. “Her beautiful sculptor’s hands seem to push back the mists of mystery in order to reach the shores of art.”

Born in Paris in 1924, Claude Lalanne studied at Paris’ École des Beaux-Arts, then at the École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs. In the 1950s, she lived and worked with her husband in the Montparnasse district, where they became close friends with their neighbor, Constant Brancusi, and associated with the likes of Magritte, Man Ray, Ernst, Dali, Duchamp, Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle. In addition to her work with Saint Laurent, she also collaborated with Chanel (Karl Lagerfeld was also a dear friend) and Dior. Work by Les Lalanne is represented in many prominent collections around the world, including the National Design Museum and the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York; and the Musée Nationale d’Art Moderne-Centre Georges Pompidou and the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris. In addition to the Mitterrand gallery, her work is also represented by the Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York, and Ben Brown Fine Arts, London. 


Title image : copyright Claude Lalanne, courtesy Ben Brown Fine Arts.