François-Xavier Lalanne: A Wading Bird Becomes a Lamp

On 19 November 2020, by Philippe Dufour

Like his wife Claude, François-Xavier Lalanne ushered modern sculpture into another dimension by giving it a utilitarian function. But his creations, like this bird, which will soon land in Tours, are always poetic.

François-Xavier Lalanne (1927-2008), Grand Échassier lamp-sculpture (Tall Wading Bird), c. 1990, copper with red patina, gilded bronze and frosted opaline glass, monogrammed "FxL", stamp of the manufacturer "Artcurial", numbered "13/900", 61 x 68 x 35 cm (approx. 24 x 26.8 x 13.8 in).
Estimate: €70,000/90,000

Was it a heron, an ibis or another aquatic breed that inspired the artist? Perched on its long, stilt-like legs, its head tucked into its neck, this wading bird seems to look like several winged wetland inhabitants. Echoing that mash-up, composite materials bring it alive, from copper with a red patina for the wings to gilded bronze for the head and limbs. Frosted opaline glass was a natural choice for the belly: this animal sculpture is also a lamp. Its whimsical inventiveness means just one person could have designed it: François-Xavier Lalanne (1927-2008). The bird’s rounded volumes seem like an obvious inspiration for this utilitarian object, where light is diffused by the body and softened by metal wings acting as a lampshade. Designed in 1990, the Grand Échassier (Tall Wading Bird) lamp was made by Artcurial in 900 copies. This one is numbered "13/900". The entire series, however, was apparently not produced, which explains why this model (approximately 60 cm, or 24 in high) is relatively scarce in the market and highly sought after. During the same period, Lalanne also designed the Petit Échassier (Small Wading Bird, averaging about 30 cm high, or 12 in). The only key difference is that it has just one leg, which is solid. The Lalanne studio has confirmed the authenticity of our work, duly filed in its archives under the number "2020/020".

From the Fantastical to the Practical
The appealing bird belongs to the dreamlike world imagined by François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne in June 1962, when the two artists, a painter and an architect respectively by training, decided to focus completely on sculpture, which they loved whether by Pompon or the ancient Egyptians. Two years later they were ready for their first joint personal show, "Zoophites", at Jeanine Restany’s Paris gallery, where François-Xavier presented the legendary Rhinocrétaire, the surrealist offspring of the union between a rhinoceros and a secretary. From then on they started turning sheep, pigeons, baboons, hippopotamuses, grasshoppers or crocodiles into chairs, bathtubs, fireplaces or lamps. It was around that time that Yves Saint Laurent discovered Lalanne’s work and commissioned him to make the incredible Bar YSL in metal for his apartment, seen again at the Grand Palais during the historic February 2009 sale. Many other collectors also fell in love with Lalanne’s extraordinary bestiary, such as Pierre and Jocelyne Noury of Rennes, who bought this Grand Échassier at Rennes Enchères OVV in October 2005. The bright bird will undoubtedly fly high during their collection’s upcoming dispersal, where many treasures of modern art and design will shine.

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