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Jewelry

Artfully Adorned: Claude Lalanne’s Bejeweled Flora and Fauna

By Stephanie Sporn
Sotheby’s Artfully Adorned series celebrates the artists whose playful experimentations with scale, medium and motif have brought us delightfully untraditional wearable works of art.

W hether it’s their animal-shaped bars or woolly sheep stools, it’s nearly impossible to look at Les Lalanne’s whimsical art without it bringing a smile to your face. Since they began working together in 1956, the French husband-and-wife duo François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne always embraced humor and fantasy, demonstrating that any subject in the animal kingdom or natural world could be transformed into a gilded treasure. Though François-Xavier passed away in 2008, Claude, 94, is still creating sculpture at her home in Ury, outside of Paris. In recent years her intricate jewelry has enjoyed a well-deserved spotlight, with numerous exhibitions at the most prestigious galleries and museums around the globe, as well as appearances on the elite Haute Couture runway.

Patrick McMullan Archives
Claude Lalanne and Francois-Xavier Lalanne at Paul Kasmin Gallery, 2006. Photo by Neil Rasmus/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.  

Surrealist Beginnings

Claude Lalanne studied architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts and the École des Arts Décoratifs before meeting François-Xavier Lalanne at his first gallery show. Collectively known as “Les Lalanne,” the couple became Montparnasse neighbors with Brancusi who introduced them to the Surrealist community at the Impasse Ronsin. Les Lalanne befriended Dalí, Ernst, Duchamp, Man Ray, Niki de Saint Phalle and James Metcalf, who helped Claude perfect the art of electroplating.

Though at first their work was not taken seriously (the 1950s and 1960s vogue was for abstraction), they did capture the interest of Alexandre Iolas, a champion of French Surrealism, after their first exhibition at Galerie J. in Paris in 1964. When Iolas died in 1979, and the gallery closed, the couple moved to Ury, where Claude still resides.

Portrait de Claude Lalanne en 1999
Claude Lalanne in Paris, 1999. Photo by Micheline PELLETIER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.  

Technique

Claude’s mastery of lifecasting imparts her uncanny creations with their organic shape and convincing texture. “In comparison to sculpture, making jewelry is a very delicate process” Claude Lalanne told T: The New York Times Style Magazine in 2016. “I get the greatest sense of achievement in being able to swap between the two, and navigate their differences.” In the article, she also shares how her she began making jewelry as gifts for her friends, much like Calder.

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CLAUDE LALANNE, SAC CLÉMATITE. SOLD FOR $27,500 AT SOTHEBY’S NEW YORK IN MAY 2018.

In her signature, intricate electroplating process, objects like leaves, twigs, petals, berries and other organic materials are completely transformed into copper. When the item is submerged into a bath of copper sulphate that has a current running through it, the metal builds on the material, resulting in an exact replica.

Fashion 1969: Yves Saint Laurent
Yves Saint Laurent emphasized the sculpted body of the woman in his Autumn/Winter 1969 Haute Couture collection, designed in collaboration with Claude Lalanne. Photo by Manuel Litran/Paris Match via Getty Images.  

Lalanne and Fashion

From Valentino and Pierre Bergé to Peter Marino and Reed Krakoff – whose black sheep sold in May 2018 for $735,000, a new auction record for a single “Mouton de Laine” – fashion designers and moguls have long been Les Lalanne devotees. One of the most iconic examples of Claude Lalanne’s sartorial collaborations was her ‘Les Robes Lalanne’ and bodily adornments for Yves Saint Laurent’s Autumn/Winter 1969 Haute Couture collection. The artist created gilt metal castings from supermodel Verushka’s body to be worn with ethereal blue and black dresses. Lalanne also accessorized the models with galvanic copper fingertips and ear ornaments to complete the armor-like effect.

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Some of the bespoke body ornaments created by Claude Lalanne for Yves Saint Laurent’s Autumn/Winter 1969 Haute Couture collection. Photo by Manuel Litran/Paris Match via Getty Images.

More recently, Claude Lalanne partnered with Christian Dior for the French fashion house’s Spring 2017 Haute Couture show. Maria Grazia Chiuri chose to make an artful statement for her first Dior couture collection – with the Musée Rodin as its venue, the looks featured headdresses by Stephen Jones and botanical jewels by Claude Lalanne. Butterfly necklaces and blossoming flowers were among her exclusive pieces.

Recent Exhibitions

The Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris are among the many esteemed international collections that house art by Les Lalanne. Wearable art gallery Louisa Guinness has increasingly showcased jewels by Claude Lalanne, and in 2016, Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York debuted Claude Lalanne: Bijoux, the artist’s inaugural jewelry exhibition in the United States. Spanning four decades of the artist’s work, the show dazzled with its intimately sized sculpture, which was as arresting displayed on its own as on the wearer.

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Installation view of Claude Lalanne, Bijoux at Paul Kasmin Gallery. 28 October–23 December 2016. Courtesy of the artist and Paul Kasmin Gallery. Photography by Christopher Stach.

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