Claude Lalanne nearly always worked in bronze. Some of her best-known sculptures, which often doubled as furniture, include chandeliers adorned with butterflies, her ‘Ginkgo’ chair, and a bronze cabbage that’s sprouted a pair of chicken’s legs.
‘I had taken a mould of a cabbage and just wondered what it would look like with legs,’ the artist recalled of the latter’s origin. ‘The moment I saw it, it felt right. It had emotion.’
Her sculpture of a man with a cabbage for a head, called L’Homme à Tête de Chou, also featured on the cover of Serge Gainsbourg’s 1976 album of the same name.
Claude Lalanne was born in Paris in 1925. She was one of only a few women to study architecture at the city’s École des Beaux-Arts, later also training at the École des Arts Décoratifs. She met her husband in 1952; not long after they began sharing a studio in Montparnasse and moving in Surrealist circles. Their neighbour was the sculptor Constantin Brancusi, whilst Salvador Dalí, Man Ray and Max Ernst became their friends.
In 1964, Claude and François-Xavier opened their first joint exhibition, Zoophites, at Galerie J in Paris. The show caught the attention of the Greek art dealer Alexander Iolas, who was known for introducing American audiences to European Surrealism and the work of Andy Warhol. He displayed the couple’s sculptures in Paris in 1966, then helped them secure their big international break: an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1967.
Despite exhibiting together, the pair rarely worked as collaborators. Claude did collaborate with a number of fashion designers, including Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy and Karl Lagerfeld.
After Claude’s death in 2019, the French president Emmanuel Macron issued a statement saluting her ‘imagination, humour and poetry.’ A trove of works left behind in the pair’s workshop at Ury, near Fontainebleau, was split between the couple’s four daughters.
In December 2022, their daughter Marie Lalanne offered her share of over 150 pieces, including furniture, jewellery and one of Claude’s celebrated apple sculptures, at Christie’s. The collection totalled $77 million. Claude’s top lot of the sale was the bronze cabbage sculpture Très Grand Choupatte (2014), which realised $3.5 million.
LUSTRE 'STRUCTURE VÉGÉTALE' AUX PAPILLONS À SEIZE BOUGIES, PIÈCE UNIQUE, 2003
LUSTRE ‘STRUCTURE VÉGÉ TALE’ AUX PAPILLONS À SEIZE BOUGIES, PIÈ CE UNIQUE, 2009
SUITE DE QUATRE APPLIQUES, LE MODÈLE CRÉÉ EN 1992, CELLES-CI RÉALISÉES EN 1996
LUSTRE AUX PAPILLONS 'STRUCTURE VÉGÉTALE' À NEUF LUMIÈRES, PIÈCE UNIQUE, 2008
PAIRE DE TABLES 'SINGE AUX NÉNUPHARS', LE MODÈLE CRÉÉ EN 2007, CELLES-CI RÉALISÉES EN 2008