A flock of sheep is heading to the auction block at Christie’s in New York, where it could fetch as much as $6 million next month.
Made with aluminum, wood and wool, the group of 24 sheep sculptures by French artist Francois-Xavier Lalanne (1927-2008) comes from the collection of Adelaide de Menil and her late husband, anthropologist and author Edmund Carpenter.
It will be offered during the postwar and contemporary art evening sale on Nov. 14. The sale proceeds will benefit the Rock Foundation, which supports anthropological and archaeological research, publishing and films. It was established by Carpenter and de Menil in 1976.
Designed in 1965, the flock comprises eight standing sheep, including one black version, and 16 headless grazing animals. Introduced at the Salon de la Jeune Peinture in Paris, “Mouton de Laine” immediately attracted international attention and became one of the artist’s best-known works, according to Christie’s catalog.
“My husband and I fell in love with them,” said de Menil in a telephone interview. “I just loved the idea of having these gorgeous sheep. You can sit on them. You can lie on them. You can be a bunch of people or just one or two people.”
The couple purchased the set in 1976 at Galerie Alexandre Iolas in Paris where Lalanne had an exhibition. They brought it back to the U.S., installing the creatures in a converted 30-by-40-foot barn on their East Hampton estate.
The barn was turned into a sparsely furnished living room with a large fireplace and the sheep.
“We put them in a corner where they could look out and we could see them from outside and inside,” de Menil said. “We were just enchanted with that arrangement.”
De Menil, the daughter of art collectors John and Dominique de Menil and an heir to the Schlumberger oil-service fortune, said she decided to sell the sheep because they have been in storage since the sale of the East Hampton property in 2007.
“Having known them in this perfect place, I could not have imagined another place similarly perfect,” she said.
Lalanne’s auction record of $7.5 million was achieved in 2011 for a smaller flock of bronze sheep titled “Mouton de Pierre (10 works)” at Christie’s in New York.
Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater, Hephzibah Anderson on books.