Francois-Xavier Lalanne is a renowned French sculptor and installation artist, who is best known for his animal imagery especially his famous Mouton sheep. Born in Agen, France, Lalanne moved to Paris at age eighteen to study sculpture, drawing and painting at the Academie Julian. In Paris, after completing a mandatory military service, Lalanne rented a studio in Montparnasse next to sculptor Constantin Brancusi, who introduced him to many surrealists including Man Ray, Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp. He was also influenced by artifacts and animal sculptures in the ancient Egypt and Assyrian galleries of the Louvre, where he worked as an attendant. In the early 1950s, at his first gallery exhibition, he met his future wife Claude. The two married in 1967 and together pursued a career in sculpture that reintroduced a focus on the organic and natural world amid the minimalist and abstract styles of the 1960s. They gained notoriety after commissions from Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge, as well as to design monumental foundations and gardens in Paris. Known as LES Lalanne collectively, they have become of the most illustrious husband and wife duos and the twentieth century.
Francois-Xavier’s work is an ode to Surrealism and Art Nouveau. His stylized animal sculptures are oftentimes married with functionality, giving them a distinctive fusion of fine and decorative arts. Among the most celebrated of these sculptures are Francois’ playful sheep. Now known as the Moutons de Laine, the sculptures were originally presented with the title Pour Polytheme, a reference to a passage in Homer’s Odyssey. Lalanne’s sheep first gained prominence in 1965 when they were exhibited at the Salon de la Jeune Peinture of Paris. The “flock” of twenty-four sheep was displayed at the entrance to the exhibition and guests were photographed sitting atop. Two years later, the photographs of wooly sheep doubling as functional furniture were published in Life magazine.
The French duo was championed by influential surrealist gallerist and collector Alexander Iolas, and vastly collected by fashion luminaries such as Coco Chanel, Valentino, John Galliano and perhaps most notably Yves Saint Laurent. Prestigious collectors such as the Rothschilds and the Noailles also discovered their talent early and remain some of Lalanne’s biggest enthusiasts. In recent years, the works of Les Lalanne have been exhibited at Les Arts Decoratifs in Paris, on New York’s Park Avenue, and in the important sale of the collection of Yves Saint Laurent at Christie’s, which generated a renewed interest in their work from a younger generation. Lalanne artwork resides in major collections including the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York, the Museé Nationale d’Art Moderne/Centre Georges Pompidou, the Museé d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, the City of Paris, the City of Santa Monica, and the City of Jerusalem.