Claude Lalanne, ‘"Crocodile" Armchair’, 1997, Sotheby's

Property from an Important Manhattan Collection

en suite with the previous lot

number eight from an edition of eight

From the Catalogue
Sotheby's would like to thank Claude Lalanne for her assistance with the cataloguing of this lot.

At midnight during a full moon in 1972, Claude Lalanne paid a visit to the zoo. It was a surreal and eagerly anticipated experience for the artist. She had made an appointment with the director of the zoo, who agreed to her request for the remains of a recently deceased crocodile. Lalanne had conceived the idea to incorporate the animal’s unique form into her bronze work, but she knew it would be impossible to realize without a model. So she waited for nature and fate to take its course. When a crocodile at the zoo died, the zoo director (who was a friend of Niki de Saint Phalle) recognized that the animal, under Lalanne’s nimble fingers and poetic imagination, would soon begin its next life as a work of art.

Since that night, Lalanne has incorporated the “Croco” into an array of her works. Either fragmented or in its entirety, the crocodile motif appears as a chandelier, small table, stool, chair, bench and, in one of the artist’s most masterful interpretations of the form, as the present desk and armchairs. Lalanne developed the technique of galvanoplastie, in which she uses a continuous electric current to apply a metal deposit on the surface of the object. Lalanne employs this technique alongside bronze casting to translate the crocodile’s rough and scaly form and additional botanical elements into the textured surfaces of the present lots.

Eulogizing his wife’s work, François-Xavier Lalanne praised, “All she has to do is persuade the elements to marry each other by soldering, hammering, and filing them.” Indeed, Claude Lalanne manipulates her materials with incredible skill and sensitivity to combine her crocodile, which forms the chair backrests and the desktop, with an ensemble of vegetal stems which give the pieces their structure. These organic curves and counter-curves culminate into deeply poetic compositions embellished with delicate bouquets of galvanoplastic cabbage leaves from the Lalannes’ garden.

The “Crocodile” armchairs and “Croco” desk epitomize the Surrealist influence that defines Lalanne’s work. The significance of her work to the wider Surrealist dialogue of the period is eternalized in a period photograph of Max Ernst, pioneer of the Surrealism movement, sitting in one of these very chairs in the company of the artist. These lots are a unique opportunity to acquire three iconic works from the “Crocodile” series coming from the same collection.
—Courtesy of Sotheby's

Signature: impressed Lalanne/97/B and numbered 8/8 with artist's monogram

Galerie Mitterrand, Paris
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2008

About Claude Lalanne

Claude Lalanne is recognized for creating imaginative bronze objects that straddle the line between the fine and decorative arts. Working closely with her husband, Francois-Xavier Lalanne, she has produced a diverse body of sculptural work ranging from large-scale animal figures to furniture fashioned after tree branches and other vegetation, as in Banc (model Ginkgo) (2003). By adding artful aspects to functional objects, she aims to enrich life by injecting art into the everyday. Lalanne and her husband chose not embrace the abstraction that pervaded the mid-20th century art world, preferring to represent real life subjects (for Claude, typically some form of plant life) in a manner often regarded as surreal. This approach has won her great acclaim, and her work has been widely collected, including by Yves Saint Laurent, who commissioned Lalanne to create a mirrored room with vine-like moldings for his home.

French, b. 1924, Paris, France