Obituary / Claude Lalanne

Sculptor of fantasies.

By Judith Gura / 29th May 2019

DESIGNER CLAUDE LALANNE, who became internationally celebrated as one-half of the husband-and-wife design partnership known as ‘Les Lalanne’, died on April 11th in Normandy, France, at the age of 93. Born to a prosperous Parisian family in 1924, Claude Dupeux studied architecture at L’École des Beaux Arts and the École des Arts Décoratifs. After learning the art of electroplating with the help of American artist Jimmy Metcalf, she began to cast leaves or plant fragments from life, dipping them in copper sulphate and sulphuric acid to apply a distinctive copper coating. She formed the pieces into furniture and decorative objects inspired by nature: fantasies of intertwined vines and foliage, flora and fauna in copper and gilt-bronze.

Claude Lalanne, on the occasion of her exhibition ‘Les Lalanne’ at Ben Brown Fine Arts, November 2018. COURTESY: © Ben Brown Fine Arts

Claude Lalanne, on the occasion of her exhibition ‘Les Lalanne’ at Ben Brown Fine Arts, November 2018.
COURTESY: © Ben Brown Fine Arts

In 1952, she met sculptor François-Xavier Lalanne, and they began collaborating and later married, raising four daughters. The Lalannes exhibited and marketed jointly, though each worked independently – his style was more assertive and hers characteristically delicate and often called surrealistic. The Lalannes were embraced by the Parisian art and fashion establishment, attracting friends and collectors like Karl Lagerfeld and Yves St. Laurent, for whom Claude designed cast-from-life, bronze breastplates for gowns in his 1969 couture collection. Her public image soared when French singer Serge Gainsbourg featured her sculpture, ‘The Man with the Head of a Cabbage’ on a 1976 album cover.

Though well-known in Europe for some time, the Lalannes only achieved international fame in the past decade – particularly after the sale of the St. Laurent collection in 2008, in which a set of Claude’s mirrors brought more than $2 million. Les Lalanne were honoured with a 2010 exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, which also contributed to escalating prices for the work of both artists. Francois-Xavier’s iconic sheep sculptures are sought by collectors, as are Claude’s crocodile seating pieces, giant apples, and whimsical works like a cabbage with chicken feet, and their designs have been acquired by major museums in Europe and the United States. Francois-Xavier died in 2008, and Claude continued to work at her home and studio in Ury, France, producing framed mirrors, chairs and tables, chandeliers, candelabra and jewellery, often drawing inspiration from her own garden.

For a January 2019 exhibition of Lalanne work at the Kasmin gallery in New York, landscape designer Louis Benech created an environment inspired by the garden, with a pair of gates made by Claude especially for the show. Her last major commission, from architect and longtime client Peter Marino, was a staircase for the Hotel Samaritaine in Paris. A Lalanne exhibition is planned for the summer of 2020 at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Please see The Design Edit’s recent review of Les Lalannes exhibition at the Kasmin Gallery.

Clark Art Institute – an art museum and research institution located in Williamstown, Massachusetts, United States.

Article by Judith Gura
Article by Judith Gura
Judith Gura was a New York-based writer and lecturer with a special focus on contemporary design. She covered the design market for two decades, and published a number of books on modern design, furniture and interiors. View all articles by Judith Gura