François-Xavier Lalanne’s Grand Chat polymorphe

Discover François-Xavier Lalanne’s enduring commitment to his inimitable sculptural language, as seen through his storied Grand Chat polymorphe. This work featured prominently in Les Lalanne: Zoophites, drawn from the collection of Caroline Hamisky Lalanne and curated by Paul B. Franklin, which celebrated 60 years since the artist’s first joint solo exhibition.

Combining a rotating cat’s head with a fish’s tail, a bird’s wings, and a female pig’s belly and hooves, Grand Chat polymorphe measures over 10 feet in length and opens to reveal a fully-functioning bar.

François-Xavier Lalanne executed this work shortly before his death in 2008. As the last of five bronze examples completed from a 1998 design conceived as an edition of 8, this work remarkably affirms the artist’s enduring commitment to his singular artistic vision.

The work exemplifies François-Xavier’s signature practice of rendering life-size sculptures of animals in his distinctive Surrealist style.

Its artful blend of aesthetics and utility is a hallmark of the artist’s nearly half-century career. As the wings extend outward, they reveal a brass interior designed especially to accommodate a full bar.

The head rotates 360° degrees in the manner of a weathervane, a recurring device among the artist’s polymorphic animal sculptures. This all-seeing creature blends the domestic quality of a house cat with the omnipresent hallmark of an otherworldly being.

This form is based on a brass commission that François-Xavier realized for the French architect Émile Aillaud and his wife, Charlotte, in 1968.

Aillaud was an important collector who would later commission François-Xavier’s first monumental work for a major public architectural project, two fifteen-feet-high-pigeons in painted concrete for the Grande-Borne housing development just south of Paris.

Perhaps inspired by the inventiveness of François-Xavier’s sculptural style, Aillaud whimsically requested the artist to create a bar that was too large for his hôtel particulier on the rue du Dragon in Paris. “Do whatever you like, but make sure it is too big,” he said.

Another brass example was owned by the famed dealer Alexander Iolas, who launched Les Lalanne onto the international scene in the 1960s at his galleries in Paris, New York, and across Europe.

In 1967, Iolas organized an important Les Lalanne exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, the artists’ first exhibition at an American institution.

To create the brass work at such a large scale, François-Xavier hand-crafted sheets of brass and steel, ensuring the head would rotate and the wings would open to retain a state of dynamism.

Despite the 1968 design’s dismissal by critics of its time, who resisted the perceived extravagance of the artist’s blending of art and function, François-Xavier remained confident in the vitality of this form, returning to it after 30 years when he began this bronze edition in 1998.

The artist’s proclivity to morph animal forms recalls his upbringing studying classical literature including Ovid’s Metamorphoses, filled with stories of transformations of form.

François-Xavier solidified his artistic kinship with similar mythologies in 1966, when he presented his iconic flock of twenty-four woolen sheep titled Pour Polyphème in reference to the monster in Homer’s Odyssey.

Over four decades later, as the present work demonstrates, the artist’s delight in the transformative element of his artistic universe never tired.

By the time François-Xavier envisioned this large-scale work, he was no stranger to working with tremendous mass.

In 1949, he moved to a studio on the impasse Ronsin in Paris, where he had daily contact with the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, who was then completing his last monumental sculpture, Grand Coq IV.

This extraordinarily close contact with pioneering developments in modern sculpture offered François-Xavier an unparalleled opportunity to explore developing interests in scale, weight, and form.

In December 1949, the artist began a brief term of employment as a night guard in the Egyptian and Assyrian galleries of the Louvre in Paris, where he had much time to study the massive Apis Bull.

His intimate encounters with the museum’s collections would only further inform his unique sculptural style.

Learn about this work and more here.



François-Xavier Lalanne, Grand Chat polymorphe, 1998/2008, brass, bronze with stainless steel pin, 72 1/4 x 117 x 25 inches, 183.5 x 297.2 x 63.5 cm. Collection of Caroline Hamisky Lalanne.



Artwork by François-Xavier Lalanne © Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY / ADAGP, Paris, France. In order of appearance The brass Grand Chat polymorphe commissioned for Émile and Charlotte Aillaud; François-Xavier Lalanne in his Ury with the brass Grand Chat polymorphe. Courtesy of Caroline Hamisky Lalanne; Alexander Iolas at his home in Athens, 1983. Photo: Arnold Newman/Getty Images; François-Xavier Lalanne working on Le Grand Chat Polymorphe, 1968. Courtesy of Caroline Hamisky Lalanne; Claude de Leusse, “The Fashions: Nice Monsters and Gold Fingers,” Women’s Wear Daily (January 8, 1968), 14. Courtesy of Fairchild Archive. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission; Titlepage to Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’. Etching by Antonio Tempesta. Published by Pieter de Jode I. 1606. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1951; Another example from this bronze edition at the artist’s home in Ury, France, 2011. Photo: Paul Kasmin; François-Xavier Lalanne with Brancusi in the impasse Ronsin, c. 1952. Courtesy of Caroline Hamisky Lalanne; Apis Bull, 4th century BC. Musée du Louvre, Paris. © 2014 Musée du Louvre / Antiquités égyptiennes.