A French gilt-bronze mounted kingwood, satiné, holly and hornbeam marquetry "Coquille" table by François Linke, index number 544, circa 1900.
French & Continental Furniture

Discoveries: A Fine Table by the Celebrated Cabinetmaker François Linke

By Mark Stephen

A table made by François Linke sold for €75,000 in the Style : Mobilier, Objets d’Art et Orfèvrerie at Sotheby's in Paris in 2019. The piece was consigned by the cabinetmaker’s great-granddaughter. Handed down through successive generations, the table was fresh to the market and possessed perfect provenance. Moreover, it had never been restored so had the honesty and originality that collectors desire.

François Linke was born in 1855 in the village of Pankraz in Bohemia. Born into a large but poor family, Linke as a young man became an apprentice to a local furniture maker. In 1875 he travelled to Paris, the centre of the luxury furniture trade and it is believed he found employment in the workshop of Joseph-Emmanuel Zweiner, but by 1881 had opened his own workshop. At first supplying more established makers such as Jansen and Krieger.

Clearly ambitious, Linke staked everything on a stand at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle. Knowing that the organisers wanted a world class exhibition to coincide with the Olympics, he invested heavily in a range of furniture that would have bankrupted him if left unsold. The show was a great success and his Grand Bureau, a magnificent tour-de-force, took the gold medal and made him important contacts and clients including the Kings of Sweden and Belgium, Anna May Gould, the American heiress, and Emile Loubet, the President of France. The exhibition left him the financial freedom to enable him to exhibit at the Salon des Industries du Mobilier in 1902, the World Fair at St. Louis in 1904 and the Franco-British exhibition in London in 1908. Already known as a cabinetmaker of fine quality work, the Paris Exposition cemented Linke’s place at the top of the tree, and his name became synonymous with the best French furniture over the next forty years.

The critic Charles Dambreuse writing for the Revue noted that 'L'Exposition de la maison Linke est le gros événement de l'histoire du meuble d'art en l'an de grâce 1900,' and the Art Journal wrote 'The work of M. Linke...was an example of what can be done by seeking inspiration amongst the classic examples of Louis XV and XVI without in any great sense copying these great works. M. Linke's work was original in the true sense of the word, and as such commended itself to the intelligent seeker after the really artistic things of the Exhibition. Wonderful talent was employed in producing the magnificent pieces of furniture displayed'.

After the First World War, Linke undertook the extraordinary commission to furnish a palace in Alexandria for King Fuad of Egypt, possibly the largest single furniture commission ever conceived. Linke flourished and remained active until the middle years of the 1930s and died in 1946.

Many early 20th-century cabinetmakers made direct copies of Louis XV and Louis XVI furniture, but Linke chose instead to fuse traditional style with the exuberant naturalism of Art Nouveau. He commissioned sculptor Léon Messagé to produce the exceptional bronze mounts, as well as specialist marquetry craftsman for the panels of inlay. The attention to detail that Linke insisted on might explain why he only finished sixteen of the twenty-four pieces of furniture for his stand in 1900 and the rest were exhibited at later exhibitions.

The table was made for the exhibition and Linke commented in his notebook that he had sold many small tables. It is notable for its elegant proportions and fine quality including the marquetry panels and the veneers which demonstrate huge skill to lay veneer around both facetted and curved legs. It has a hidden weight to stabilise the table, and the mounts and English-style Chubb lock made by Linke’s brother are also exquisitely crafted. Linke fuses together the rococo style of Louis XV with the sinuous lines of Art Nouveau, merging the different mediums of wood carving, bronze and marquetry into a unified whole.

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