Talking Shop

Nature Transformed

Wava Carpenter

Les Lalanne takes over The Clark as auction sales soar

For the first time in forty years, an American museum has turned over its galleries and grounds to the beguilingly surreal work of husband and wife artist-designers François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne. The timing for Nature Transformed at The Clark in Williamstown, Massachusetts, could not be better, as widespread interest in Les Lalanne—as the duo is often called—along with their market value, is at an all time high.

Le Cabinet Papillons, c. 1964, and Très Grand Choupatte, 2008/2012, both by Claude Lalanne. Photo © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; Clark Art Institute / T Clark

Just last week, on the occasion of Sotheby's Important Design: From Noguchi to Lalanne auction, Glenn Adamson led a conversation with actress and design collector Julianne Moore along with gallerist Jean-Gabriel Mitterrand in which all agreed that the attraction to Les Lalanne can be attributed to the fact that their work never recedes into a room and always brings a touch of humanity. That sale, which took place on May 25th in Paris, saw six of the seven Lalanne works fetch for over one million Euros each. More Lalanne lots are slated to hit the auction block in the next week or so, including the 2001 Troupeau d’Eléphants dans les Arbres Table by François-Xavier at Christie’s on June 10th, estimated at $1-1.5 million.

Troupeau d’Eléphants dans les Arbres Table by François-Xavier, 2001. On auction at Christie’s, estimated at $1-1.5 million. Photo © Christie's New York

The exhibition at The Clark underscores the consummate influence of nature on Les Lalanne’s highly sculptural, often figurative, and sometimes functional objects. Curtain wall windows overlook verdant, rolling hills and a rippling pond, creating a vibrant backdrop for François's menagerie of forms and Claude’s signature cabbages and crocodiles.

Les Berces Adossées by Claude Lalanne, 2015. On view now at The Clark. Photo © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; Clark Art Institute / T Clark

Asked about the role of nature in the work of Les Lalanne, seasoned specialist Edith Dicconson, Senior Director at Kasmin Gallery, tells us: “Claude was inspired by her garden, from which she pulled cabbages, leaves, and vines to immortalize them with her galvanic bath—turning them into choupettes, mirrors, croco-chairs, chandeliers, and more. François pulled from the animal kingdom, as he found creatures very pleasing. He dreamed that he could play with them. There are few artists who can delight the heart like Les Lalanne can.”

Moutons de Laine by François-Xavier Lalanne,  1968–71. Photo © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris; Clark Art Institute / T Clark

In the US, The Clark is the sole venue for Nature Transformed, which also marks the first museum presentation of the artists’ work since Claude’s passing in 2019. But abroad later this month, you can find another striking Lalanne installation at the Palace of Versailles, organized in collaboration with Galerie Mitterrand. Again Les Lalanne’s poetic, surrealist flora and fauna will be placed in conversation with a bucolic environment.

Lapin à Bent de Tourtour by François-Xavier Lalanne, c. 1990s. Photo © Capucine de Chabaneix / Galerie Mitterrand

For insight into the booming market for the work of François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne, we turned to Carolyn Pastel of art and design consultancy Pastel Advisory, who has this to say: “Les Lalanne offers something completely different and fresh. Their captivating designs—such as the whimsical rhinoceros desk or stylized ginkgo chairs—present a stark contrast to the minimalist austerity of mid-century modern, which has been the predominant style in recent years. By reimagining form and function and blurring the boundaries of art and design, they have tremendous cross-market appeal. From the very beginning their works have attracted influential tastemakers including Yves Saint Laurent, Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, the Rothschilds, Gunter Sachs, Peter Marino, and Jane Holzer. And the recent passing of Claude has only further contributed to the demand.”

It may be hard to say exactly why this moment has become the moment for Les Lalanne. Given the power of François-Xavier and Claude’s artistic, fanciful imaginations in tandem with their impressive command of techniques, however, the work itself offers the best response to that burning question: Why not? ◆


Claude & François-Xavier Lalanne: Nature Transformed is organized by the Clark Art Institute and curated by Kathleen M. Morris, Marx Director of Collections and Exhibitions and Curator of Decorative Arts.  The show is on view until the end of October.