There are many items that are icons or legends in terms of interior design: Pedro Friedeberg's Hand Chair is one, along with the Thonet Chair, the Fornasetti etching of opera singer Lina Cavalieri’s face, and a host of others...but one of the most whimsical and inventive iconic design items is the Lalanne Sheep, created in 1965 by French sculptor François-Xavier Lalanne for the Salon de la Jeune Peinture in Paris.
Although they are now known as the Moutons de Laine, François-Xavier’s bronze sheep sculptures were presented at the Salon de la Jeune Peinture with the title Pour Polytheme, a reference to a passage in Homer’s Odyssey which recounts how Ulysses and his comrades blind the cyclops Polyphemus, and escape from his cave by clinging to the bellies of his giant sheep. Lalanne's work is highly sculptural, owing a debt to Surrealism in its whimsy, and highly functional. His moutons serve as either seats or foot stools! Below you can see Lalanne with his wife Claude, also a sculptress whose surreal whimsical work focuses on the botanical instead of the animal world, lounging on a flock. Claude has been quoted as saying, playfully, "They are not furniture, they are not sculpture--call them 'Lalannes.'"
The realistic cast bronze sheep are covered in sheep skin but Lalanne created outdoor versions where the "wool" is cream colored stone epoxy.
Yves Saint-Laurent was an early patron of Lalanne and collected a flock of sheep to populate his library in the home he shared with his partner Pierre Bergé.
Other designers have collected the sheep over the years. Valentino invested in a flock...
...and a Lalanne sheep can be spotted in this image of Marc Jacobs' home.
If you keep your eyes peeled, you can spot them grazing peacefully in so many homes in shelter magazines.
In case you're wondering, a flock of the outdoor Lalanne sheep went for a record $7.5 million at a Christie's auction in 2011...and original sheep go for just under a million. Just sayin'.