20th Century Design

The Elephant-Headed God, Lalanne's Ganesh

By Florent Jeanniard

During a trip to India, Claude Lalanne and François-Xavier Lalanne discovered the richness of Hindu iconography. François-Xavier was particularly struck by the representation of a god who would continue to fascinate him: Ganesh. Lalanne’s Ganesh sculpture will go on sale in the Design Sale in Paris on 3 May.


Easily recognisable by his elephant head and human body, Ganesh is the god of wisdom, intelligence, education and prudence. The myth of Ganesh explains that he was the son of Shiva and Parvati, and was originally born with a human head. While Shiva was away at war, Parvati appointed her son to guard her chambers, and permit none to pass while she was bathing.

Shiva had never seen his son, having left for war before he was born. When he returned, he went straight to Parvati’s chambers, and there met Ganesh. When Ganesh refused to let him pass, as his mother had ordered, Shiva cut off his son’s head in fury. Parvati saw what had happened, and collapsed in grief, telling her husband of his terrible mistake and implored him to bring their son back to life.


Shiva sent his servants and commanded them to bring back the head of the first living creature they came across. When they returned, they brought with them the head of an elephant, and using this Shiva brought his son back to life, with an elephant's head on his shoulders in place of his human head.

On his return to France, François-Xavier Lalanne sculpted a Ganesh of his own with all the required attributes. Half man, half elephant, with a round belly, representing abundance and generosity, he has small eyes, a symbol of concentration, and big ears representing the need to talk less and listen more. He’s joined by his companion, the mouse (Mûshika).


This is Lalanne’s representation of a deity, the artist's tribute to India. But we can also see the symbolism of the animal world, so dear and so characteristic of François-Xavier Lalanne, associated with the human body. It echoes a sculpture of his wife, Claude Lalanne, where the plant world, also beloved of the artist, is associated with the human body, “l’Homme à la tête de choux”.

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