French Artists Dominate Freeman’s Upcoming Modern and Contemporary Art Sale

Liz Catalano
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A broad selection of sculptures, paintings, and drawings will come to auction with Freeman’s on November 17th, 2021. The Modern and Contemporary Art sale particularly features the work of French artists, from François-Xavier Lalanne to Vũ Cao Đàm. David Weiss, Freeman’s Senior Vice President and Head of Sale for the Modern and Contemporary Art department, curated the auction.

François-Xavier Lalanne, five Moutons de Pierre in front of the Philadelphia skyline. Image from Freeman’s.
François-Xavier Lalanne, five Moutons de Pierre in front of the Philadelphia skyline. Image from Freeman’s.

Leading the auction catalog are five Les Lalanne sheep from a Washington, D.C. collection. The French artist duo of François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne rose to fame in the 1960s. In a period dominated by abstraction and Pop Art, Les Lalanne turned their attention to realistic nature sculptures that leaned equally on Surrealism and whimsy. The couple co-created their sculptures but often displayed them under the joint moniker of Les Lalanne. François-Xavier’s hand is most visible in the animal sculptures. Claude primarily focused on flora and botanical themes.

Les Lalanne received criticism when they started their artistic collaboration. Functional sculptures were still unknown to the art world at the time, and Les Lalanne intentionally blurred the boundary between art and design. They wished to make art more normal and less aspirational. “It is, after all, easier to have a sculpture in an apartment than to have a real sheep,” François-Xavier Lalanne famously said. “And, it’s even better if you can sit on it.”

François-Xavier Lalanne, detail from Moutons de Pierre, 1988. Image from Freeman’s.
François-Xavier Lalanne, detail from Moutons de Pierre, 1988. Image from Freeman’s.

François-Xavier Lalanne frequently returned to sheep motifs throughout his career. Initially a reference to Odysseus’ daring escape from a cyclops on the belly of a sheep, the animal sculptures struck a chord with collectors. Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé commissioned several early pieces from Les Lalanne, including a sculptural bar and garden sheep.

A selection of Les Lalanne sheep will be available in Freeman’s Modern and Contemporary Art auction this November. François-Xavier Lalanne created the available epoxy stone and bronze Moutons de Pierre in 1979. He particularly designed these sheep for outdoor use. According to Freeman’s, they have guarded the entrance of the former owner’s home since the 1990s. They now come to auction with estimates of USD 100,000 to $150,000 each. One pair will be available with an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000.

Chaïm Soutine, Le Viaduc Rouge Près de Vence, c. 1919. Image from Freeman’s.
Chaïm Soutine, Le Viaduc Rouge Près de Vence, c. 1919. Image from Freeman’s.

Another notable artist with work in the catalog is Chaïm Soutine. A Russian-born Jew, Soutine traveled to Paris at 19 years old. He studied at the École des Beaux-Arts and established himself in Paris’ growing avant-garde community. Soutine separated himself from the city’s emerging art movements, embraced Expressionism, and explored dark subjects as the 20th century pressed on. Themes of death and sorrow often emerged in his art.

Available in Freeman’s Modern and Contemporary Art auction is Chaïm Soutine’s Le Viaduc Rouge Près de Vence (estimate: $100,000 – $150,000). The artist completed this piece during World War I as he fled Paris and traveled through Provence. Soutine sought refuge in the peaceful landscapes of Vence. Despite these soothing surroundings, many Soutine paintings from this period appear to be dark and twisted versions of reality. The available painting shows a bright red viaduct bending against waving green trees and a yellow-hued sky.

Vũ Cao Đàm, Divinité, 1967. Image from Freeman’s.
Vũ Cao Đàm, Divinité, 1967. Image from Freeman’s.

Paris attracted art expatriates of all nationalities in the early 20th century. Vũ Cao Đàm also chose to settle in the French capital after college. Born in Hanoi, Vũ studied at the École des Beaux-Arts d’Indochine before receiving a scholarship to study abroad. This adolescent trip to Paris proved to be a turning point. Vũ spent the rest of his life in France pursuing bronze sculpture and figure painting.

Vũ Cao Đàm was best known for blending Impressionistic styles with traditional Vietnamese subjects. His works often placed women in traditional garments amid flowers or nature scenes. Available in Freeman’s auction is Divinité, a strong example of Vũ’s style. The 1967 late-career oil painting shows a seated woman with a serene expression. Her plain white robe sharply contrasts the explosion of colorful flowers around her. This piece is expected to fetch between $12,000 and $18,000.

Hassan El Glaoui, Arab Horsemen, c. 1965-67. Image from Freeman’s.
Hassan El Glaoui, Arab Horsemen, c. 1965-67. Image from Freeman’s.

Moroccan painter Hassan El Glaoui was another student of the École des Beaux-Arts who chose to continue in Paris. The son of the last Pasha of Marrakesh, El Glaoui turned away from politics at an early age to pursue a career in painting. He found success abroad and did not return to Morocco until the 1960s. Despite several years of personal and political turmoil, El Glaoui maintained his interest in art. He especially sought to capture the energy and excitement of Tbourida or Fantasia performances. This horsemanship tradition is emblematic of the Maghreb region. In these exhibitions, horse riders wearing traditional garb charge forward and simultaneously fire muskets in a single, ringing shot. 

Available with Freeman’s is Hassan El Glaoui’s Arab Horsemen from the mid-1960s. The piece reflects the artist’s lifelong interest in horses and dynamic riders. Four figures appear in this painting. Their white and black horses are shown mid-stride against a rust orange background. The painting has a presale estimate of $5,000 to $8,000. 

Beyond art by French creators, this auction also features several Harry Bertoia sculptures from the estate of Gabriele Lee. Moroccan painter Ahmed ben Driss el Yacoubi, Iranian-American artist Manoucher Yektai, and Spanish-Puerto Rican art titan Ángel Botello also have work in the catalog. To view each available lot in Freeman’s Modern and Contemporary Art auction and to place a bid, visit Bidsquare. For continued coverage, check out Auction Daily’s preview of the event.

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Liz Catalano
Liz Catalano
Senior Writer and Editor

Liz Catalano is a writer and editor for Auction Daily. She covers fine art sales, market analysis, and social issues within the auction industry. She regularly collaborates with auction houses and other clients. A Chicago native, she holds a BSW degree and is based in Pennsylvania.

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