François–Xavier Lalanne was born in Agen, France. After receiving a Jesuit education he moved to Paris at 18 to study sculpture and painting at Académie Julian. François–Xavier rented a studio in Montparnasse close to Constantine Brâncuși whom he met and befriended. It was Brâncuși who inspired François–Xavier to switch from painting to sculpture. Claude Lalanne studied architecture in Paris at École de Arts Décoratifs.
In 1952, François–Xavier met Claude Lalanne at his first gallery show and the two married and started working and collaborating together. In 1960 they exhibited as “Les Lalanne.” While abstraction dominated the art scene during this time, François–Xavier focused on animal themes and Claude Lalanne enjoyed delicate flora, leafage, and vegetation. Together they started co–creating rather than collaborating. This specific way of working produced two distinct bodies of work that complemented one another and were shown together.
It’s rare to walk into a space and catch your breath because you know you’ve stumbled upon something exciting and scarce. Ben Brown Fine Arts is located at the end of Brook’s Mews in Mayfair, London, with a space that’s essentially one large room divided with temporary walls. Immediately, upon walking in, there is a cacophony of visual stimulation with the sound of trickling water emanating from somewhere in the distance. The water is from a bronze statue, one arm victoriously raised, water gently flowing from the young man’s fingers cascading down his body onto a bed of egg rocks.
Slowly, I wanted to drink in the sensory stimulation, allowing the joy of discovery to last as long as possible. There are forms of both animal sculptures and nature inspired furniture superimposed on stunning visual backdrops: expansive canyons, desolate open spaces, and thickly dense flora serve to momentarily disorient your sense of time and place. To add a little more trickery to the visual harmony, colored carpet matching corresponding environments further enhance the pleasure principle. As you bask in the pure frivolity of Eden personified, it’s hard to forestall applause. There are life–size sheep made by François–Xavier in epoxistone and bronze, Moutons Transhumant (1991); 8–10 figures stand in rapt attention on tiered platforms looking toward something (or someone) beyond the viewer’s sightline. Is there a performative aspect? Almost expectantly there’s the hope there is, and if not, imagination easily takes you there. Will a Shepard step forward and command his flock come nigh? The enveloping realism is palpable, made possible because objects compliment their environments, stand in relation to it, and place the viewer behind the proscenium.
There’s a practical aspect to the work alongside its visual virtuosity. Inspired by the family of Cervidae, red or sika deer are meticulously crafted and cast in bronze. These sculptures stand pensive, doubling as storage spaces or cabinets, bringing nature into the home. Alligator skins drape over stool armatures, Crococurule (1992/2002), forming seats in reptilian grandeur. Using modern electroplating processes, forms are moulded from life and cast in aluminum, bronze, and brass. While François–Xavier made most of the larger animal sculptures, including a sizable cast iron baboon with a fireplace in its belly, Babouin (1984), Claude Lalanne continues to undertake the making of diaphanous mirrors, lamps, benches, and monkeys holding trays above their heads, which double as tables.
The furniture, animals, and statues are Art Nouveau inspired blending the lines between art, decoration, interior design, and functional furniture. Most iconic is Claude Lelanne’s, Choupatte (2015), a head of cabbage with chicken legs cast in bronze with green patina, stands in farcical pointlessness. The version inside the gallery is about 21 inches tall, while another version outside stands closer to 6 feet. The head of cabbage is there to greet you upon arrival, and bid you farewell as you step back into reality.