The Breakdown

The $850,000 Sheep Sculptures

By Frances Dodds
January 5, 2018

850 what, you say? Assessing the value, craftsmanship, origin, and material of highly covetable works of art from eBay Collective’s Objects20c

Restored barn homes are all the rage these days, but if you’re really going rustic chic, this $850,000 flock of five life-size Francois-Xavier Lalanne sheep may be an essential addition to your home décor. Of course, the nearly million-dollar price tag is enough to have even the most ardent animal lover peeking—shall we say—sheepishly at his bank account. Luckily, Wade Terwilliger of Objects20c—the Miami-based furniture and fine art gallery selling the flock—has some insight on what makes these sculptures so special.

Photographs courtesy of Objects20c
Photographs courtesy of Objects20c

Artist relevance and demand: Francois-Xavier Lalanne was one half of the famed French artistic duo Les Lalannes—the other half being his wife, Claude. At the 1965 Salon de la Jeune Peinture in Paris he unveiled a series of 24 furry life-size sheep sculptures that doubled as seating, and they became an immediate sensation. To this day, his sheep are cult favorite statement pieces. “Lalanne was a pioneer for introducing the question, is it art or is it furniture?” Terwilliger says. “A lot of his original sheep were made to sit on—not these, but the furry ones. Some didn’t even have heads; they were meant to be benches. And that’s definitely become a trend with designers like Marc Newson, who makes furniture that looks like sculpture. So you’re paying art prices.”

Probably the most unusual aspect of these sheep is that they’re all sold together.

Rarity: “These sheep are limited edition,” Terwilliger says. “They’re multiples—so 500s and a couple are 250s. On the belly of the ram, for example, it says 68/250. That means Lalanne only made 250 of these, and this is number 68. I would consider this a relatively small edition size, so of course that keeps prices up.”

Pre-assembled collection: “Probably the most unusual aspect of these sheep is that they’re all sold together,” Terwilliger says. “Most people like to have a collection of them, so here you can start and finish your collection in one purchase, versus to having to seek them out one by one. And because they’re fairly rare, it can be hard to find them.”

Original condition: This flock of sheep is made from epoxy stone and patinated bronze, and a 2015 condition report Objects20c commissioned from the Modern Art Conservation notes wear and tear, like chipping in the legs. “When we get things that are rare like this, we often have to decide, are we going to restore it or not?” Terwilliger explains. “The rarer the item is, the more tolerance collectors are going to have for condition issues, and a lot of collectors don’t want things touched, because they want the age to show. So the rarer an item is, the less likely we are to make a change.”

Photographs courtesy of Objects20c
Photographs courtesy of Objects20c

Strong provenance: When it comes to determining authenticity of fine art and furniture, Terwilliger says provenance—or a traceable history of the pieces in question—is usually the most important factor. “The provenance of these pieces is, in my opinion, very strong,” he says. “I’ve listed that the provenance was Dorothy Blau Gallery out of Miami. Dorothy Blau was a very well-respected art dealer, and these were part of her collection. Then they went to a Long Island estate and then back to an art gallery in Miami.”

Pro tips: Terwilliger says the most crucial step in buying art online is being certain that the seller is legitimate. “You really want to know the gallery,” he says. “Do they actually have a location you can go to, or are they operating out of a warehouse? How long have they been in business? Can you get someone on the phone to speak knowledgably? You want to know who you’re buying from, because [as a seller] I’m telling you this is the provenance, and to some degree, you’re trusting to that I’m not lying to you.” In the event that provenance is not available, Terwilliger says a backup plan can be to bring in an expert—but even that creates variability. “The issue of experts can be difficult because it’s really up to the buyer to decide who they believe is an expert,” he says. “It’s not always so easy. There aren’t a lot of standards out there, so it’s really about finding a seller you can trust.”