Sotheby’s Is Auctioning a Huge Collection of Superstar French Designers
(Bloomberg) -- The market for the late sculptors François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne is soon to meet its greatest test since Covid-19. More than 200 pieces consigned by the couple’s daughter, Dorothée Lalanne, will hit the auction block at Sotheby’s in Paris.
The market for the husband-and-wife duo has been on a decade-long tear, which culminated in 2019 with a 274-lot, two-day sale of the couple’s belongings at Sotheby’s in Paris.
There, about 240 pieces designed by the Lalannes, along with roughly 34 objects collected by them (a Matisse drawing, for example) set a series of records. Estimated to yield from $17.6 million to $25.7 million, the sale totaled a stunning $101.5 million.
Not only did every single lot sell, 96% sold above high estimates. The sale attracted 4,100 collectors from 43 countries, according to Sotheby's.
Since then, prices for both François-Xavier, best known for incorporating animals into his work, and Claude, best known for incorporating flora into her designs, have climbed precipitously.
In September, Claude’s record at auction was nearly doubled at Christie’s in Paris when a bronze chandelier burst past its high estimate of $1.4 million to sell for $4.4 million, with fees. The previously record had been set in Sotheby’s 2019 sale when a fanciful cabbage on chicken legs sold for $2.4 million.
Francois-Xavier’s record was set a decade ago when a collection of 10 of his famous sheep sold for $7.5 million at Christie’s in New York in 2011. His third-best record—a table with a group of elephants underneath it—was set in June at Christie’s New York for $6.6 million, above a high estimate of $1.5 million.
“The market in the last two years has changed,” says Florent Jeanniard, European head of design and vice president of Sotheby’s France.
Not only have prices continued to climb, the Lalannes' public profile has risen, thanks to a large installation of their work at Versailles this summer, along with an exhibition of their design at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., Nature Transformed, which closed last month.
With that in mind, Jeanniard continues, he opted for a deliberately conservative set of estimates for the forthcoming auctions to stoke bidding among collectors.
One of Claude’s famous crocodile armchairs, for instance, is estimated to sell from €500,000 to €700,000 ($580,000 to $810,000); at the 2019 auction at Sotheby’s, in contrast, a chair sold for €1.5 million. A “back-to-back” bench created by Claude in 2015 has an estimate of €300,000 to 400,000 euros; a back-to-back bench sold in 2019 for €852,500.
“I wouldn’t say the estimates are low, I’d say they’re ‘reasonable,’” Jeanniard says. “That can be super exciting for a client, because with a higher estimate, some might say ‘OK, I don’t know if I should bid on one lot or another,’ but with more conservative estimates, they’ll try for both.”
Together, the three auctions have an overall estimate total of €10 million to €15 million, though the live auction represents the bulk of it.
Top lots include a patinated bronze sculpture from 2004 by François-Xavier, Le Minotaure, estimated to sell from €1 million to €1.5 million, and three of his famous sheep in gilt patinated bronze, estimated from €700,000 to €1 million.
Interest in the sale, Jeanniard says, has been global.
“You don’t need to be European or Asian or American to understand Les Lalannes,” he says. “You just need to be on the planet Earth.”
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