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  • Overview

    'Everyone can recognize animals throughout the world. You don’t have to explain what they are or mean.' —François-Xavier LalanneMelding realism with his own lyrical view of the world, François-Xavier Lalanne would, throughout his career, take various characters from mythology and the animal kingdom, and create resoundingly poetic sculptures. These creations, hovering between the realms of art and design, all seemed to exist as extensions of one another — so much so that the artist’s oeuvre as a whole frequently became referred to as a ‘universe’. In the present work, the creature’s large round eyes, long tail, and boxy body resting on thin, tall legs immediately betray its nature — that of an owl, additionally elucidated by the title Chouette de Tourtour. The nocturnal bird was initially modelled in 1969 for Annette Grüner-Schlumberger’s house in Tourtour, a medieval village overlooking Provence near the Mont Sainte-Victoire, and became an iconic formulation of Lalanne’s thematic sculptural output, evidencing his skill in fashioning graceful forms with bronze. ‘He was someone with references beyond our era’, said the gallerist Jean-Gabriel Mitterrand. ‘His work had something of the Renaissance and ancient Greece and Rome. There was a surrealistic touch in the way he transformed sculpture into everyday objects’.1 In Chouette de Tourtour, Lalanne’s visual references come to life in the form of an elegant creature, simultaneously denoting phenomenological nature and magical fantasy. Signifying its importance within Lalanne's opus, the present sculpture notably resided in the esteemed collection of the British art patrons Lord Anthony and Lady Evelyn Jacobs, until being acquired in 2015 by the present owner.

     

    François-Xavier Lalanne, Chouette Perchée, 1989. Image: Courtesy of Kasmin Gallery. 

    The Owl

     

    Replete with symbolic associations, the owl has a long history of being associated to a creature that sees, like an oracle, far beyond the formative layers of reality. In Greek mythology, the animal stood for Athena, goddess of wisdom; in Roman mythology, it was associated to the figure of Minerva. In the Middle-Ages, the owl gained a sinister reputation and typified the dark powers of witches and demons; later, it would amalgamate all these various historic implications, and be perceived as an omen, a sign, a symbol of sorts. In the realm of modern art history, numerous artists took to the subject in a way that was proper to their understanding and appreciation of the animal; Albrecht Dürer created his striking Little Owl, Diego Giacometti utilised the creature as a decorative feat within his design pieces, and Pablo Picasso returned time and again to his totemic, animalistic muse in both ceramics and paintings. Through its essential and poetically reduced rendering, Lalanne’s Chouette signals ideas of knowledge and wisdom; it exudes the ineffable powers of divinities, whilst retaining the wit and charm for which he is now so celebrated.

     

    Pablo Picasso, Owl in an interior, 1946, oil on counterplate, Musee Picasso, Paris. Image: Bridgeman Images. © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2021.
    Left: Albrecht Dürer, Kaeuzcheb (Screech-owl), 1508, watercolour, pen and brush on paper, Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna. Image: Scala, Florence.
    Right: Pablo Picasso, Owl in an interior, 1946, oil on counterplate, Musée Picasso, Paris. Image: Bridgeman Images. © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2021.
  • A Parisian Flair

    'What makes the couple’s designs captivating may be their quirk, but what has made them collectible is their distinctive ability to blend modern techniques with traditional craftsmanship.' —Margaret Carrigan

    French sculptors François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne in their workshop in Ivry, September 16, 1991. Getty Images.
    French sculptors François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne in their workshop in Ivry, September 16, 1991. Getty Images.

     

    Born in 1908 in Agen, France, Lalanne studied easel painting at the Académie Julian in Paris, before abandoning the medium and dedicating himself to sculpture. Whilst living in the city, he rented a studio in Montparnasse next to that of Constantin Brancusi, who would introduce him to Surrealist peers including Man Ray, Max Ernst, and Marcel Duchamp. In 1952, at his first gallery show, Lalanne met Claude, née Dupeux, whom he later married. After their marriage, the couple began to co-create as Les Lalanne, and over the following decades, they continued to produce work both separately and together, primarily vested with the flora and fauna of the natural world. While Claude preferred plant life, François-Xavier favoured animals, as exemplified by the present Chouette de Tourtour. ‘What makes the couple’s designs captivating’, Margaret Carrigan remarked, ‘may be their quirk, but what has made them collectible is their distinctive ability to blend modern techniques with traditional craftsmanship into what the sculptor James Metcalfe described as “objects to live with”. The duo saw no difference between high art and artisanship and moved between the two fluidly. To do so was a radical notion in post-war Europe, where artistic abstraction and industrial production reigned supreme’.2

     

    Chouette de Tourtour: Slow Looking

  • 1 Jean-Gabriel Mitterrand, quoted in R. Murphy, ‘Obituary: French Artist François-Xavier Lalanne’, Women’s Wear Daily, 9 December 2008, online.
    2 Margaret Carrigan, ‘How to buy a...Les Lalanne’, The Art Newspaper, 22 October 2019, online.

    • Provenance

      Ben Brown Fine Arts, London
      Collection of Lord and Lady Jacobs, London (acquired from the above in 2005)
      Christie's, London, 1 July 2015, lot 192
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Literature

      John Russell, Les Lalanne, Paris, 1975 (another example illustrated)
      Les Lalanne, exh. cat., Château de Chenonceau, Chenonceaux, 1991, p. 138 (another example illustrated, p. 71)
      Daniel Marchesseau, The Lalannes, Paris, 1998, p. 109 (another example illustrated)
      Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne, exh. cat., Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York, 2007, p. 89 (another example illustrated, pp. 67-89)
      Paul Kasmin, Claude & François-Xavier Lalanne: art, work, life, New York, 2012, n.p. (another example illustrated)

Property from an Important Belgian Collector

12

Chouette de Tourtour

incised with artist's initials and numbered '6/8 fxl' on the right foot; incised 'bocquel fd.' on the tail feather
bronze with light brown patina
81 x 40 x 40 cm (31 7/8 x 15 3/4 x 15 3/4 in.)
Conceived in 1992 and cast in bronze in 2002 by Fonderie d'Art Bocquel, Grainville-Ymauville, this work is number 6 from an edition of 8 plus 4 artist’s proofs.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£350,000 - 450,000 Ω ♠

Contact Specialist

 

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

+ 44 20 7318 4060
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Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe

+ 44 20 7318 4099
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 April 2021