Making a Splash With François-Xavier Lalanne's Unique Hippopotamuses

Making a Splash With François-Xavier Lalanne's Unique Hippopotamuses

F rançois-Xavier Lalanne was a designer renowned for his ability to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. Unique in his magical menagerie are these three life-size bronze hippopotamuses – a mother and children – with moveable parts that reveal a bathroom set like no other, comprising a bathtub, working sink and vanity, toilet and bidet.

The spectacular statement set will be offered for the very first time since it was commissioned in the nineties by the present owner. The lot is set to be one of the highlights of Sotheby’s forthcoming Important Design sale in Paris at the end of June.

In the early 1970s, the collector – himself the grandson of Swiss animalier sculptor Edouard-Marcel Sandoz – had a chance encounter with Valérie Kling, daughter of Claude Lalanne, who was performing at Jérôme Savary's 'Le Grand Magic Circus'. The pair went on to become fast friends and Kling introduced him to the whimsical world of Les Lalannes, populated by fantastical animals, firstly at the gallery of Alexandre Iolas, and later at their studio in Ury. For the collector, Ury sparked happy memories of a childhood spent in his grandfather’s workshop, overrun with armadillos, donkeys, foxes and all manner of birds.

“Following our landmark two-day auction of the personal collection of the late artist duo Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne last October, it is a great feeling to once again be surprised and delighted by the genius of Les Lalannes, with perhaps one of their most brilliant metamorphoses.”
Florent Jeanniard, Head of 20th Century Design at Sotheby’s Europe

Twenty years later, together with his wife, he told François-Xavier Lalanne of their wish to have one of the artist’s works for the bathroom of their home. Enamoured with the famous hippopotamus bathtub, made of bright blue-resin, that Lalanne had created for Marcel Duchamp and his wife Teeny, they asked for not only a bathtub, but also a toilet and a bidet. The request was first met with hesitation, as Lalanne correctly explained that hippopotamuses are not biologically able to conceive twins. After some deliberation, they settled on the story that the second calf could simply be a friend of the first.

The only remaining requirement the artist had was to position the mammals in the bathroom himself, arranging them to face the exceptional view of the surrounding mountains. Thus, Lalanne created a family of hippopotamuses in copper, gilded metal and patinated bronze, as the mother transformed into a bathtub – with the sink located in her mouth – and two young hippos around her as the toilet and the bidet.

Two of the most pioneering, important and beloved artists of the 20th century, the work of Les Lalannes is held in the collections of leading international museums including the Smithsonian Design Museum, New York, the Pompidou Centre, Paris and the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Loved and celebrated by many leading artists, influencers and collectors, their works also appear in the most prestigious private collections around the world, namely that of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, Peter Marino, Karl Lagerfeld, Guy and Marie-Hélène de Rothschild, Gunter Sachs and Jacques Grange.

20th Century Design
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