number 4B from an edition of 8
gilt bronze, copper, leather upholstery
monogrammed CL, dated 1993 and numbered 4B/8
34 ⅝ x 31 ½ x 25 in. (87.8 x 80 x 63.5 cm)
Overall in excellent condition. One of Claude Lalanne’s most iconic and technically ambitious creations, the present “Crocodile” Armchair displays superb sculptural presence and exceptional naturalistic detailing. The present armchair is a particularly rare iteration of the model, and distinguishes itself from other versions of the series with the tail dramatically sweeping over the chair’s upper top rail, which adds great dynamism and movement to the form. When viewed in person, the gilt bronze surface presents with delicate and subtle hints of red and iridescence that add to the artistry of the work, notably on the backside of the Crocodile’s body. The gilt bronze has recently been sensitively cleaned by a professional restorer with strong expertise in works by Les Lalanne and presents beautifully. The gilt bronze presents with minor surface irregularities, particulate inclusions and minute pinholes which are inherent to the making and very common for works by Claude Lalanne. The bronze surfaces with very light oxidation throughout consistent with age and adding texture to the gilt bronze. The recessed areas of the chair present with occasional and extremely minor verdigris marks concentrated to the back of the piece and not visually distracting. The leather cushion is removable and in excellent condition overall. An unmissable highlight from the collection of Michelle Smith, this offering provides Lalanne collectors with the opportunity to acquire a rare version of this coveted form in beautifully preserved original condition.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby’s is merely a subjective qualified opinion.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING CONDITION OF A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD “AS IS” IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE PRINTED IN THE CATALOGUE.
At midnight during a full moon in 1972, Claude Lalanne paid a visit to the zoo. It was a surreal and eagerly anticipated event for the artist. The director of the zoo, who shared a common friend with Lalanne in the artist Niki de Saint Phalle, had agreed to meet her for a most unusual purpose: to give her the remains of a recently deceased crocodile. Lalanne was inspired to incorporate the animal’s unique form into her bronze work, but knew it would be impossible to realize without a model. So she waited for nature and fate to take its course. When the zoo’s crocodile died and its body was handed over to Lalanne on that night, it marked the beginning of an important artistic journey--the “Crocodile” series--which endured for decades and came to represent some of the most significant works in the artist’s oeuvre.
Once in her possession, the crocodile was reincarnated into an array of whimsical forms borne of Lalanne’s boundless imagination. She captured every detail of the crocodile’s body by casting it in bronze directly from the animal itself and then treating the bronze cast with galvanoplastie, a process in which metal is deposited over the bronze surface via a continuous electric current. The result of the combination of these techniques is at once incredibly realistic and utterly fantastic: the reptilian bodies appear exactly as they would in nature but are seemingly other-wordly with their luminous golden flesh.
Lalanne produced a variety of crocodile forms and parts, including full-body and isolated elements like feet and scales, and turned them into functional design components. Either fragmented or in its entirety, the crocodile motif appears in the artist’s chandeliers, tables, desks, stools, chairs and benches. She began experimenting with the armchair form very soon after receiving the crocodile remains, and a circa 1973 photograph shows the artist Max Ernst seated in one of these early armchairs in the artist’s studio. The image immortalizes the significance of Lalanne’s work to the wider Surrealist dialogue of the period and shows an early example of a form that she would continue to develop and refine over the next decades.
The present armchair is a particularly rare iteration of the model. The shape and proportions of the chair conform effortlessly to the crocodile’s body, which is positioned with its tail sweeping dramatically upwards above the armrest. Immersed within a complex ensemble of swirling reeds and leaves that comprise and accent the structure of the chair, the crocodile’s active pose suggests it is swimming through water. One particularly unique and uncommon feature of the present example is the curling leaf that delicately accompanies the crocodile’s tail on one side of the backrest. Its three crocodile feet playfully animate the work, making it seem as though the chair itself could wander off, but are also a nod to traditional “claw feet” furniture. With this chair, Lalanne invites the sitter to approach an elusive, predatory creature and to sit with it comfortably, admiringly, and to revel in a moment in nature that she seemingly miraculously preserved in gold.
The “Crocodile” armchair epitomizes the Surrealist aesthetic that defines Lalanne’s work but, importantly, it is entirely distinct from the Surrealism of the 1920s. Describing the work of Claude and her husband and co-creator, François-Xavier Lalanne, art critic John Russell explained, “where the original Surrealists inhabited a night-world of the imagination in which nearly all dreams were nightmares and sabotage was the first duty of the artist, the Lalannes take a humane and peaceable attitude towards conjunctions which would elsewhere be called ‘abnormal.’ Their work is done in the light of day, and as if for a world in convalescence.” The armchair exemplifies Russell’s observation of Lalanne’s desire not to “overturn our habits of thought and feeling, but rather to give them an added luxuriance.” Such is the case in the present masterwork which, like a dream, straddles the realms of the enigmatic and the familiar.