A Stash of Animal Sculptures by the Lalannes, Found Hidden in a Secret Room in the Couple’s Studio, Heads to Auction

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In 2019, a blockbuster two-day auction took place. Months after design icon Claude Lalanne’s death in April of that year (at the age of 94), which followed her husband François-Xavier’s death in 2008, Sotheby’s Paris offered nearly 300 lots from the beloved French couple’s estate, chock-full of art and assorted mementos. As previously agreed with Les Lalannes, Sotheby’s gathered the items from their home-cum-studio in the village of Ury, France, where they lived and worked for over 50 years.

The pieces included decades of work by both designers, famed for their bronze sculptures that took the form of animals, as well as intimate letters, archival documents, and other works—which they called “souvenirs”—gifted to them by artists and friends such as Jasper Johns, Marcel Duchamp, and Henri Matisse. These included a lithograph by Johns, sculptures by Jean Tinguely, pieces by Niki de Saint Phalle, a painting by Dorothea Tanning, and a print by Max Ernst signed for the Lalannes, among others. The sale quadrupled the pre-sale high estimate of $24.5 million, achieving over $101 million, a record for Sotheby’s in France at the time.

Les Lalannes in their Ury home and studio. © Archives Lalanne.

Les Lalannes in their Ury home and studio. © Archives Lalanne.

“Sotheby’s were chosen by the Lalanne family to carry out the inventory of Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne’s personal collection,” said Florent Jeanniard, co-worldwide head of design at Sotheby’s, “housed within the perfectly ordered jumble of their sprawling home and workshops in Ury. Together with my colleagues, I stayed there for several days to catalog everything—an unforgettable, once-in-a-life time experience exploring a life devoted to art.”

But, as it turns out, there was more to the Lalannes’s personal collection than they let on. Stashed in a secret room concealed by massive bronze bulls, 20 additional Lalanne sculptures were recently discovered. On October 4, Sotheby’s Paris will put them up for live auction, Trésor Retrouvé, following a public exhibition from September 30 to October 3, with the idea that these are the last remaining objects belonging to the duo. 

“With the landmark auction in 2019, we thought that we had offered all there was of the furniture, objects and works of art from this incredible collection,” continued Jeanniard. “It is such a thrill to be able to reveal that there was one last set of treasures that had remained hidden away—giving collectors another chance to acquire a piece [of] Les Lalanne.” 

François-Xavier Lalanne, <em>Boîte de Sardines</em> (1971). Courtesy of Sotheby's Paris.

François-Xavier Lalanne, (1971), estimated to bring $200,000–$312,000. Courtesy of Sotheby’s Paris.

Among the more intriguing of the fresh set of lots is , a sculpture in the form of a tin of sardines made from foam and leather, attributed to François-Xavier Lalanne. According to Sotheby’s, it was commissioned in 1971 by Jane Holzer, fashion model and Warhol Superstar, to appear in an exhibition of furniture she was curating at Leo Castelli Gallery. Later, the piece was acquired by legendary dealer Alexander Iolas, before returning to the Lalannes’s possession when they bought it back at a Sotheby’s auction in 2005.

Claude Lalanne, <em>Pomme de Londres</em> (estimate: $668,000–$891,000, photographed in the gardens of the Château de Courances. Courtesy of Sotheby's Paris.

Claude Lalanne, (estimate: $668,000–$891,000, photographed in the gardens of the Château de Courances. Courtesy of Sotheby’s Paris.

Other pieces in the sale include Claude Lalanne’s (estimate: $668,000–$891,000), (estimate: $279,000–$390,000), (estimate: $111,000–$167,000), and (estimate: $89,000–$111,000), as well as François-Xavier Lalanne’s (estimate: $668,000–$891,000) and (estimate: $67,000–$89,000), attributed to both design icons.

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