Focus on François-Xavier Lalanne, following the sale of his first Rhinocrétaire at the record price of $19.4 million


A living-room bar in the shape of a cow or a hippopotamus; a bed shaped like a can of sardines, a writing desk in the form of a dove… François-Xavier LALANNE (1927-2008) is famous – as is his partner, Claude – for sculptural furniture of unparalleled originality. One of his most impressive creations is a Rhinocrétaire, an extraordinary sculpture whose functional interior pays tribute to the tradition of furniture “with secrets” that was fashionable in France in the 18th century, and which manages to evoke Dürer’s fabulous Rhinoceros engraving (early 16th century) and the Surrealist / Pop spirit that pervaded Parisian creation in the 1960s.

Dürer’s Rhinoceros (1515)

A Rhinocrétaire – at what price?

In May 2022, Sotheby’s in Paris hammered $5.9 million for a large Grand Rhinocretaire II (2008/2017) by François-Xavier Lalanne. This version in gilded bronze, brass and covered in leather, the 7th in an edition of 8, almost doubled its high estimate. At this price, however, the golden Rhinocrétaire only generated the 15th best auction result for works by the French designer, some of whose pieces have reached close to $10 million.

On 20 October 2023 Christie’s in Paris obtained nearly $19.5 million for another Rhinocrétaire. A spectacular amount, triple the high estimate, which marks François-Xavier Lalanne’s new personal record at auction. So what was the difference between the model sold last week and the one sold at Sotheby’s for just $6 million? Firstly, the Rhinocrétaire sold last week at Christie’s in Paris is a unique piece and not one of a limited edition. It is also the very first example of the series of four known variations around the same theme. Almost life-size, the majestic rhinoceros, which hides a lit desk, a bar and a safe in the hand-welded metal sides, was displayed in the window of the J. de Jeanine de Goldschmidt-Restany gallery for the exhibition Zoophites that was held in Paris in 1964.

But at the beginning of the 1960s, Parisian collectors lacked the audacity to acquire this poetic and visionary piece and it ended up being acquired by the mother of Jeanine de Goldschmidt-Restany at the end of the Zoophites exhibition. The Rhinocretaire subsequently remained in the same family collection, and it was exhibited to the public only once, alongside later variations of the Rhinocretaire in the major exhibition entitled “Les Lalanne”, hosted at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 2010.

It amuses me to integrate a utilitarian dimension into sculpture… We have sacralized art too much in the West. Giving a sculpture a use gives it a familiar dimension and takes it down a little from its pedestal.” (F-X Lalanne, Daniel Marchesseau, Les Lalanne, Flammarion, 1998).

Shortly before this exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Arts, François-Xavier Lalanne (as well as his partner Claude Lalanne) had just made art-world news at Christie’s February 2009 Saint Laurent / Pierre Bergé sale hosted under the magnificent glass dome of the Grand Palais in Paris: his Bar YSL (1965) multiplied its estimate tenfold to reach $3.5 million, his auction record at the time. Following this result, the Lalanne couple was considered in a new light. Their highly-imaginative creativity and the sculpture/furniture duality of their work was perceived for what it is: a highly unique contribution to the creative field of the second half of the 20th century… a spirit of post-modern synthesis, both uninhibited and totally accomplished at the same time. Since then, their creations have gained in value, driven by the arrival of several sets of exceptional works on the market.

Lalanne’s world ranking at auction before the Rhinocretaire I sale. Copyright

On 4 November 2021, a set of sculptures that Dorothée Lalanne had inherited from her parents fetched over $85 million at Sotheby’s in Paris, more than five times the estimated total and the most lucrative French art auction in 2021. Léopard I (2005), a double-patinated bronze leopard perched on a stained ash console (edition 5/8) by François-Xavier Lalanne sold for a record price of $9.6 million.

In November 2022, Sotheby’s sold 100% of the lots in the second part of the Dorothée Lalanne collection, generating nearly $50 million.

On 7 December 2022 in New York, Christie’s sold Marie Lalanne’s collection, also including exceptional pieces by her parents. The whole collection generated $77 million, and certain pieces, such as The Wise Monkey (medium) (Singe Avisé (moyen)), sold for ten times their estimates.

At the end of 2022, François-Xavier Lalanne was in fact the most successful artist on the French art auction market with an annual auction turnover exceeding $54 million.