A private collection of rarely seen sculptures by French artists Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne is being put up for sale to pay for the extension of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
Daniel Marchesseau, a close friend of the sculptors for 50 years, has agreed to part with the works as part of a €5m (£4.2m) donation to create an annex for archiving and 19th century art research.
Among Lalanne’s works are a large bronze turtle planted with succulents, and one of François-Xavier’s Lalanne trademark sheep also in bronze, bird candle holders, a mouse and butterfly chandelier, and a pigeon lamp.
Marchesseau, 74, an art historian and curator at several Parisian museums, said he would donate proceeds from the Sotheby’s auction next month to renovate the Hôtel de Mailly-Nesle, a 17th-century house on the other side of the Seine opposite the Louvre. which will become the Research and Archives Center of the Musée d’Orsay specializing in 19th century art. When completed in 2025, it will be the largest heritage project at the Musée d’Orsay.
“The works left my apartment three or four days ago and I sob every morning but you have to know what you want and my goal is much more important than keeping these works for me, so it’s over “, Marchesseau told the Guardian.
“The Lalannes were my friends for 50 years. I myself ordered some works, but they were not official orders, they were friendly requests. Ours was a wonderful relationship, so happy, friendly, trusting. I feel privileged to have known them and to share this pure friendship with them.
Marchesseau, former curator of the Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, and now director of the Museum of Romantic Life in the French capital, is selling 18 works by Lalanne. All are unique pieces or prototypes for Lalanne’s later sculptures. Asked about his gift, he said art curators had a responsibility to “lead by example”.
“I wanted to make a major heritage contribution to the Musée d’Orsay. The idea that the work of this couple of artists could contribute to renovating an architectural ensemble for the purposes of art history seemed essential to me…you have to leave something that will last,” he said. he declares.
François-Xavier Lalanne died in 2008 at the age of 81 and was a contemporary of René Magritte and Salvador Dali in post-war Paris. His wife, Claude, died in 2019 at the age of 93. Although known collectively as Les Lalanne, she worked mostly independently of her husband on her own works and collaborated with Yves Saint Laurent.
Marchesseau said: “All their life they have been totally independent [artistically] and they paid a high price because they didn’t live very well until the end of their lives. They were just thrilled to have a small network of loyal friends.
The Hôtel de Mailly-Nesle was once the home of the De Mailly family; of which four of the five daughters were successively official mistresses of Louis XV. The building then belonged to the Marshal of France during the revolution, when it was seized and used to store confiscated works of art, then as a residence for artists expelled from the Louvre. Only the eastern wing of the original building remains but contains extraordinary decorations from the 17th century. The Musée d’Orsay acquired the building in 2016. Three of the De Mailly sisters are believed to be the models for Carle van Loo’s 1765 painting The Three Graces.
In addition to the Lalanne sheep, one of dozens made by the artist, the Sotheby’s sale on May 24 will also include another of his other favorite animals in the Grand Rhinocéros II, a desk in patinated bronze and leather, as well as works by Rene Lalique. and Alberto Giacometti.