Home Arts François-Xavier Lalanne’s Sheep Sculptures Bring $1 Million to Bonhams New York

François-Xavier Lalanne’s Sheep Sculptures Bring $1 Million to Bonhams New York

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A family of popular life-size sheep sculptures by Francois-Xavier Lalanne featured seven figures at Bonhams New York during the auction house’s Modern Decorative Art and Design sale on Thursday (June 15).

While Lalanne’s sheep were often sold by dealers as a complete set, it is now rare for a complete collection to be offered for sale together, according to Benjamin Walker, global head of modern decorative art and design at Bonhams. And prices have “increased steadily” since they were last produced in the 2000s, he says. The four sheep in the Bonhams sale were first purchased by shippers from the Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1998 for between $7,000 and $100,000 each.

The largest sculpture of the set, RAM (1994)—nicknamed “The Daddy” by Bonhams employees—sold for $230,000 ($293,000 with fees) from an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. The other adult Ewe (1994), brought in $280,000 ($356,000 with fees) after having the same estimate as RAM. The sale included two Lambs (1996), both of which sold to a telephone bidder for $290,000 and $230,000, respectively ($369,000 and $293,000 including fees). They were valued by Bonhams each at between $150,000 and $250,000.

Lalanne exhibited his life-size sheep sculptures for the first time in 1966 at the Salon de la Jeune Peinture at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. He later said he wanted to “create something very invasive…like bringing the campaign to Paris”. Lalanne worked alongside his wife, a sculptor Claude Lalannedied in 2019. While Claude’s work focused on jewelry and delicate aspects of nature, François-Xavier’s work was often large scale and theatrical.

“He was rebellious and found it kind of funny that some sort of marauding group of sheep would come into these urban areas like art galleries and people’s homes and almost invade them,” Walker says. Lalanne wanted his sheep to be used daily as furniture by their owners, he adds.

“Wool ones were meant to be brought into people’s homes and enjoyed and seated,” Walker says. “He wanted his art to sit, so it demystifies the academic approach and the snobbery that is associated with art.”

While Lalanne has created sculptures of sheep in different materials throughout his career, the four in Thursday’s Bonhams sale are from his 1990s series New Sheep and made of epoxy cement and bronze, quite durable materials that could withstand daily use and even outdoor conditions. A collection of New Sheep was exhibited in 2009 by the Kasmin Gallery on the grassy area of ​​Park Avenue in Manhattan. The anonymous sellers who gave the sheep to Bonhams are based in a mountainous region of the American Midwest and displayed their sheep outdoors, where they were sometimes even attacked by bears who thought the carvings were real sheep, says Walker.

Prices for Lalanne sheep have risen ‘as the supply has dried up’, says Walker, adding that they ‘rarely arrive in groups, whereas a decade ago you would have seen plenty of them coming to market in a given year.”

Last year, a trio of bronze Lalanne sheep from the collection of his daughter, Marie, sold for $6.3 million including fees at Christie’s New York, in a $77 million sale that beat the auction house design record. In 2019, a sale of 274 lots at Sotheby’s Paris devoted to the work of François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne brought in €91.3 million including fees.

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