the concave upper part with a timepiece signed F.Linke A Paris, the movement by Etienne Maxant, surmounted by a gilt-bronze figure of Cupid seated on a cloud above a central concave marquetry panel of a swan on a rockwork base in various woods including, sycamore, holly, maple, hornbeam, rosewood and ebony, each side with two concealed drawers flanked by a pair of candelabra with twin scrolling acanthus candle arms, the writing surface with the original leather panel gilt-tooled with Linke's vignette pattern number 173, the frieze with a central drawer with a scallop shell, each flanking drawer with Messagé's winged asymmetric handle, on kingwood veneered cabriole legs with inner satiné bandings, the back centered by a gilt-bronze hibiscus, the whole veneered in kingwood and satiné on an oak carcass, the drawers lined in solid oeil de vermeil with kingwood capping, the elaborate gilt-bronze mounts applied by the vis cache system, signed Linke on the right hand mount, the three locks stamped Ct. Linke Sérrurerie, Paris, and numbered 707.
Linke title: Bureau Ragnon Pendule
According to family tradition and a note left by the vendors' father, the present lot once belonged to the Maharaja of Baroda but suffered damage to the legs in transit. It passed to the vendors' family as a result of the ensuing insurance claim. Extensive research of the Linke archives has not found a specific link between Index Number 707 and the Maharaja. The archives, whilst far more extensive and comprehensive than any other world class cabinetmaker, are in part incomplete and thus any omission is seen as a frustrating lack of content and continuity.
The Maharaja of Baroda, Sayajirao III Gaekwad, Shrimant Gopalrao Gaekwad (10 March 1863 – 6 February 1939), was an innovative and reforming ruler between 1875 to 1939. In common with other potentates, he openly enjoyed an increasing western lifestyle; his Lami Vilas Palace, with a five hundred foot frontage, had an Indian exterior and a lush European interior. Surprisingly, the Maharaja is not listed under his own name in any of the seven extant volumes of the Linke invoices. However, the various Linke papers state that eight pieces were ordered 'pour Son Altesse le Maharadjah de Baroda' in 1920, invoiced at 61,525 francs with four more items ordered in 1926. Linke had written, in English, to the Maharaja in May 1921 anticipating the latters' forthcoming visit to his Paris showrooms. The only recorded projects by Linke for the Maharaja are at his Delhi Palace but the only extant drawings are for the Renaissance and Jacobean styles (see Payne, 'Linke', plates 266 & 267, p. 253). Further evidence is seen in letters from Linke's granddaughter Geneviève. She writes that whilst staying at the (luxurious) Hotel Adlon in Berlin in September 1930 with her grandfather the Linkes met the Maharaja in the main dining room but he later escaped his entourage to talk privately with Linke 'qui était venu nous parler abandonnant sa suite'. In any event the meeting must have been positive for Linke as he issued a non specific invoice for goods to the value of 186,700 francs on the 16th of September. A list of Linke's exports, compiled posthumously in 1946 show that at total of 373,025 francs had been exported to Bombay but there is no mention of clients names.
Geneviève Linke wrote to a Paris auctioneer in the 1950s to confirm his cataloguing stating that the Maharaja was indeed one of her grandfathers' esteemed clients (Payne, p. 252). A delivery note for 3rd May 1933 is typically comprehensive and may be indicative of the way furniture was sent to the Maharaja ' M. F.E. Dinshaw, 54 Esplanade Road, Bombay...deliver to Marseilles for the ship 'Ranchi' – packed in zinc-lined cases'. The use of zinc may well have been prompted by Linke having to absorb costs, in March 1931, of 50,000 francs for an Aubusson suite eaten by 'tarets' – an Egyptian woodworm found in one of the King of Egypt's consignments (Payne, 'Linke', p. 286). This may explain the use of hardwood drawer linings, oeil de vemeil in the case of the present lot. Raymond Yon, a cabinet maker who had worked for a week for Linke recalled when working for Jansen of Paris in the 1930s that seven pieces had to be made in solid mahogany and delivered to the Maharaja before the rainy season. Further oral history records that a large part of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, the furniture making area of Paris, was taken up with making furniture for Baroda at this time. An example of Linke making furniture in solid wood, probably for the same reason, was sold Sotheby's New York 'A Private Collection, vol. I, 26th October 2006, lot 55.
The 'winged handles' on the lower drawers were a favourite motif of Linke's sculptor Léon Messagé. It seems likely that he originally modelled them in the 1880s for the Paris firm of Roux et Brunet but to date they have only been recorded on furniture by François Linke. It might be assumed that this device is Messagé's idea of an amusing play on his own family name, wings being attributes of Mercury, the Winged Messenger.
As with most of Linke's work from circa 1896, the three complex locks, with English style levers, were made by Linke's brother, Clément. Each is stamped with the makers' rectangular cachet with a separate punch for the Linke Index Number similar to that shown in Payne, 'Linke', p. 358, pl. 395. The engraved Linke signature on the bronze mount is consistent with the Linke records (Payne, 'Linke', p. 18, pl. 5). A similar gilt-bronze hibiscus mount, Linke master pattern numbers 2831-4, on the back of the present lot is shown in Payne, p. 304, pl. 404. The original Message sketch for the mount is discussed on p. 75 & shown on p. 78, pl. 79. The leather vignette for the writing surface is reproduced in Payne 'Linke', p. 416, pl. 476 sixth from bottom in the left hand column.
This iconic desk by Linke has become his seminal work and combines the sculptural genius of Léon Messagé at the apogee of his comparatively short association with Linke. Although it would seem to be the ideal combination of rococo allied with the new, contemporary art nouveau, and thus ideally suited to Linke's Gold Medal winning stand at the Paris World fair of 1900, due to the enormous pressure on the Linke workshops it was not exhibited until six years later at the extension of the 1905 salon du Mobilier in Paris. Linke had originally hoped to exhibit twenty-four items on the 1900 stand, all in his new style adapted for the dawn of the twentieth century whilst firmly adhering to the traditional style of the Louis XV period in the eighteenth century. However, the sheer magnitude of his ambitions meant that only fourteen of the original list were completed on time for the opening of the exhibition on May 5th 1900; to this he had added two items that were copied from existing eighteenth century models either as a change of heart to show he was willing to make copies or simply because he could not produce enough of his new style that was so complex and so time consuming to make.
Linke's original list of furniture that he intended to make for the 1900 exhibition is glued into the appropriate Blue Daybook that gives costs and details of index numbers 537 to 708. The list is written in pencil in Linke's own hand, simple notes serving as an aide mémoire. Listed as 'bureau rognon pendule' in the page heading, Linke's sketch is basic but recognizable. It appears that apart from any drawings or plans, the first practical work was completed on 8th December 1901 with the casting of three putti at a cost of 90 francs with sporadic other castings listed until 26th February. Linke's notes that Léon Messagé charged 1,622 francs 50 centimes for his work on the models for 707, work which must have been carried out in circa 1900 as the sculptor died on 16th May 1901. This compares with 1,197 franc 20 centimes for chasing the original casts and a cost price of 7,590 for the first desk with a retail, asking price of 14,800 francs. Linke writes emphatically in ink under the pencilled notes in his Daybook 'a été fait le 21 oct 1906'.
The second model was made in 1908 with a single face to the clock movement, the cost price reduced to 7,210 francs and another 'moins riche' for a Madame Hubbard in 1909 (Commande 1265). This version cost 4,227 francs 35 centimes with a clock movement by Maxant as with other versions. The fourth and last model was being made in the Linke workshops between 1909 and 1922, no doubt part of the delay being due to the 1914-1918 Great War. This was described as a 'model riche'. The forth and last model of number 707 was in Linke's workshops between 1909 and 1922 but it seems more likely that the present lot was the example made to special commission in 1908. Due to the massive post war inflation, retail prices in 1927 for the rich and less ornate desks had risen to 95,000 francs and 60,000 francs respectively.
Footnote courtesy of Christopher Payne
We are grateful for the permission and supervision of the Linke Archives for the recasting of the gilt-bronze Cupid and also to Yannick Chastang Conservation, Kent, United Kingdom for his thorough restoration. A professional condition report is available online and upon request.
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