He held his first exhibition at Paris’s Cimaise Gallery in 1952. There he met Claude, his future wife and artistic accomplice. The pair spent the rest of their lives working side by side. Collectively, they became known as ‘Les Lalanne’ and their whimsical, surrealist sculptures have become some of the most iconic works of the 20th century.
Les Lalanne’s shared vision was dominated by wildlife — their first joint exhibition, at Galerie J in Paris in 1964, was called Zoophites. A highlight was Rhinocrétaire I, François-Xavier’s now-legendary, nearly life-size, brass rhinoceros, which was crafted from panels that fold out to reveal a desk and bar. The work achieved a world auction record for the artist when it sold at Christie’s Paris for €18 million in 2023.
François-Xavier’s obsession with the animal kingdom lasted his entire lifetime. He created a menagerie of surrealist sculptures, including a bird bed, hippopotamus bath and sheep stools — the latter being arguably his most famous work. They come in a range of sizes, colours and coats. ‘I thought it would be funny to invade that big living room with a flock of sheep,’ he said. ‘It is, after all, easier to have a sculpture in an apartment than to have a sheep. And it’s even better if you can sit on it.’
The success of Les Lalanne lasted until François-Xavier’s death in 2008 in Ury, where the couple’s workshop was located. Their collectors included Yves Saint Laurent and the Rothschilds. In 2010, they were awarded a major retrospective at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. In 2013, Claude turned a former gas station in New York into a pasture populated with 25 of her husband’s sheep in his memory.
In December 2022, Christie’s offered a selection of more than 150 Les Lalanne works from the collection of the couple’s daughter Marie. The highest price of the sale was achieved by Âne Planté (2000), a bronze donkey planter made by François-Xavier. It achieved $8,405,000.
'MOUTON DE PIERRE' A GROUP OF TEN PAINTED EPOXY STONE AND PATINATED BRONZE SHEEP, DESIGNED CIRCA 1979