‘Let Imagination Rule,’ the provocative slogan chanted by student demonstrators in France in 1968, could be the motto beneath a Lalanne crest.
Claude Lalanne’s first exhibition of jewellery was in a small gallery in the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, Paris, where she sold her first piece to gallerist Sven Boltenstern. In 1964, her first exhibition at Galerie J likewise included a surreal necklace comprised of a simple gold torque framing a golden mouth. This mouth became a recurring motif in Lalanne’s work; for both her sculpture and jewellery, Lalanne would use moulds taken from the mouths of friends and clients. She would create earrings, necklaces and bracelets for friends and family. Her small flower pins represent a badge of honour for those who know her.
Claude’s jewellery is held by some of the most important collectors. Recently she was asked to make some jewellery that was worn by Dior models showing the first couture collection by Maria Grazia Chiuri, thus crossing the fashion threshold yet again. Almost all her jewellery is created with the direct use of flowers. She has made many small works for use around the house but her indistinguishable rings and necklaces are always top of any collector’s list. Claude made an edition of jewellery with GiancarloMontebello but has mainly made it for her friends and collectors because she enjoys doing so. Only in the past ten years has she been selling through a commercial gallery and Louisa Guinness Gallery was honoured to open the first-ever solo exhibition of her jewellery, in London in 2016.
Claude worked intuitively, joining each piece together. Each element was soldered together and galvanised, giving the copper its familiar pinkish hue.
Collier Ronce, 2016 and Grand Papillon Earrings, c. 1980, Photographed by Alexander English.
Aside from the use of moulds, much of Claude’s success in both sculpture and jewellery can be attributed in part to her mastery of electroplating. This process allows the complete transformation of organic material into copper by running a current through a bath of copper sulphate. Then the flora or fauna is submerged, the copper builds on the organic material, ultimately creating a perfect metallic replica of the original. Her studio is strewn with metallic fossils. She works intuitively, joining each piece together and then heats them to obtain the familiar pinkish hue of the Lalanne finished copper.
When asked recently whether her work was guided by a particular philosophy, Lalanne replied, “I regret to say but no; I just do what I want when I feel like it”.
In the 1970s she was commissioned by Art Curial to make editions of jewellery. This relationship ended acrimoniously and all the jewellery was returned to her. Much of it was made in vermeil and in larger editions, and the dates were not well documented. Most of the galvanised copper jewellery, however, is unique.
Lalanne was still making jewellery until shortly before her passing in 2019. The state of her hands was proof of this!