PROPERTY OF AN IMPORTANT AMERICAN COLLECTOR
Only the heady genius of Léon Messagé working with Francois Linke could have produced such an extraordinary design for a piano. It takes a unique mind to create such an innovative musical instrument such as this piano a queue, number 1400 in Linke’s registre of furniture. The present lot can be dated with unflinching accuracy to 1910 although the first date for a piano of this model is as early as May 1907. In inimitable style, Linke, who only wanted the best craftsmanship and materials for his output, favoured using Erard iron-frame piano movements, arguably the best movements available at the time. While the inspiration for this extraordinary piano a queue clearly has its roots in the sculptural genius of Léon Messagé. Messagé was for at least the early part of his career an independent sculptor and designer, designing furniture in an elaborate rococo revival form as well as silver and other decorative objects. He is most remembered today for his sculptural mounts and his ability to translate his elaborate drawings into three dimensions, creating gilt-bronze models of a unique character and form. Following the eighteenth century practice of publishing his designs for general consumption, Messagé issued a quantity of his varied designs in his Cahier des Dessins & Croquis Style Louis XV, the second issue being circa 1890. Drawing on the rococo designs of the eighteenth century, notably those of J-A. Meissonnier, Messagé has conceived a unique and very specific style that links the Louis XV period to the contemporary art nouveau.
Madame d’Astoreca and her family were established and good clients of Linke who also undertook to do minor repairs for her at her Paris home at 8 Boulevard Maillot, Neuilly with a varied series of orders between 1907 and 1913 of which the present lot is the most important. The present piano, the last recorded commission, was ordered in 1910 by Madame d'Astoreca, originally from Madrid, at a cost of 7,891.85 French francs. The order of ‘Commande’ number for the present lot was 1405 with no specific date given however it can be seen from the Linke’s minutely detailed records that the first recorded date was for the locks and similar fittings entered on 6th march 1910. However the complex and detailed chasing of the mounts was still being done the following year. Other work for the family includes a unique vernis Martin cylinder bureau (index number 515). Interestingly, the order number 1405 for Madame d’Astoreca included a variation of the table index number 930, offered as lot 161 in The Property From A Distinguished Private Asian Collection, Sotheby's New York, October 15, 2015
The Erard firm was founded by the German-born Sébastien Erhard (1752-1831) and his 1821 patent for a ‘double escapement’ action is the basis for the modern grand piano. The stability of the iron frame has been a stable movement for many of the better piano case makers such as Linke. The serial number 98602 coincides with the order in the Erard archives of October that year for the movement and the Erard records show that this movement was derived on 7 October 1910 to M. Linke, cabinetmaker, 170 Faubourg Saint-Antoine, Paris, confirmed by an entry in the Linke daybook.
Linke’s short title for the piano in his price list ‘Piano Louis XV bois de satiné et marqueterie, Instrument Erard’ has no allusion to the three characters represented as gilt-bronzes sculptural figures at the head of each leg of the instrument. However two of the figures were used earlier in his repertoire, for a commode exhibited at Linke’s Gold Medal winning stand at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900. The only indication as to the characters is in the title of the commode, Linke index number 553 Line titled the ‘Commode Figaro’. However Linke’s inspiration for the figures is not clear. Clearly a concept by Linke’s sculptor, Léon Messagé, a Frenchman through and through it would seem likely that the original source would be from the plays of Pierre Beaumarchais (1732-1799). Beaumarchais was a colourful middle class Paris-born polymath who rose to become musical advisor to the French court under Louis XV and amongst his many talents he invented a more accurate escapement for the notoriously inaccurate pocket watches of the 1750s and became the court’s royal watchmaker. This precision and inventiveness alone may have been inspiration for Linke but it must be imagined that it was Messagé who would be more familiar with the culture of Beaumarchais as a playwright. Amongst others, Beaumarchais wrote Le Barbier de Séville which premiered in 1775 at the Comedie-Francaise at the Theatre des Tuieries and Le Marriage de Figaro first seen in 1781 until it was banned for its’ satire by Louis XVI until it was revised in 1785. Mozart composed an opera Le Nozze fi Figaro, the libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. The Baber of Seville was also performed as opera the most famous and long lasting being The Barber of Seville by Rossini, first performed in 1816. During Linke’s career in Paris the opera was performed at the Opera comique destroyed by fire in 1887. It was rebuilt and officially reopened by the French President, Félix Faure in December 1898 and by 1900 the Barber of Seville opera had already reached a staggering 276 performances. The timing of the reopening of the Opéra comique and Messagé’s knowledge of French culture may have been the impetus for the concept of the sculptural figures of Figaro and Rosine on the present lot.
In part the opera can be seen to have inspiration from the 16th century Italian commedia dell’arte. A nineteenth century engraving of a scene from the opera depicts Figaro dressed in the costume of Harlequin complete with mask. In a possible connection, Linke purchased the rights to edit a bronze standing figure of Harlequin after the model by Theodore Gauthier, bronze index number 08, retailing for 200 francs. The commedia dell’arte was a long established inspiration in French culture that inspired designs by Jean Berain (1637-1711), that in turn influenced the greatest of the ancien regime furniture makers André-Charles Boulle. Thus Linke was turning full circle in his reference to Figaro and Rosine and embracing the rococo revival both sculpturally in his specific mixture of Louis XV, and modernised rococo which was at the height of its popular revival by the late 1890s.
Beaumarchais’s adventures over ten months in Madrid in 1764 Spain would have been familiar to the buyer of the present lot, the Spanish-born Madame d’Astoreca. Almost certainly his two plays were based in part on his time there and may well have helped him arrive at the two central characters on the present piano, Figaro and Rosine, later Countess Almaviva, who are present in both the marriage of Figaro and the Barber of Seville. The third figure is another Messagé model, originally taken from another item made for Linke’s 1900 exhibition, index number 559 and again on a vitrine and matching music cabinet, index numbers 712 and 713 exhibited at the Liege exhibition in 1905 (see Payne, Linke, p. 172, pl. 186). Entitled coquetterie the figure is cheekily exposing her breasts, repeated in a more modest version for his important London client Meyer in 1909. This figure makes an ideal triptych to the figures of Figaro and Rosine and is full of rococo frivolity.
The Linke registre books are full of hand-written detail about the furniture made by the firm. In some cases there are chits handed in by the various craftsmen who worked on the individual piece, mainly time sheets on scraps of paper. Index 1400 for the piano has an scrap of paper with an estimate by the metalwork foreman, Goujon, for the costing of the present lot at 882 hours at a cost of 823 francs. The work for chasing was to be shared between Goujon and six others. An undated chit on a scrap of plain white paper from Maury, the gilder reads ‘Piano mercure 1400 – nitrate 700”. Written in pencil it shows that mercury gilding as for the present lot was twice as expensive as nitrate gilding. Linke clearly did not accept the estimate from the ‘Maison Carosi’ of 2,850 francs for ‘dorure mercure pierre’ at 2,850 francs or ‘nitrate mercure’ at 1,500 francs, even though Carosi had added ‘ En travail tres soigné’. A separate folder has an individual sheet of paper for the amount of wood used. The minutiae of the workbooks shows in fact that the gilding was by Picard, invoiced on 20th July 1910 at 1,500 francs. The wood for the present lot was costed out of Linke’s existing stock at 20 francs for the oak and 230 francs for the satiné.
Due to the pressure on the Like workshop, the last piano of this model was started in 1921 and not actually finished until 1921. However the amount of timber needed of course remained constant and would have cost 750 French francs in 1921. The project shows that the Erard movement by this time would be 5,400 francs, as opposed to the 2,100 francs for the present lot, the total cost of the piano to Linke adds up to 21,425 French francs. Linke’s list of retail prices shows the huge rate of inflation at the time from 48,000 French francs in 1921 to 90,000 by 1926 but the piano was never made again.
In a rare and previously unpublished document the craftsman responsible for modelling the three figures subsequently used on the present piano, made after the initial macquettes by Messagé, Charles Rigallet, ceded all rights for his work to Linke in a 'Cession de Propriété' as recommended by the Congres des Arts Décoratifs in 1894. Linke had bought the intellectual rights to Messagé's work from his widow in 1901 and this was a further guarantee for Linke to use the models without any fear of repercussion.
Footnote courtesy of Christopher Payne.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale