This inkwell is the epitome of the gifted sculptor Léon Messagé’s work, combining a fluidity of the Louis XV rococo influenced by Pineau and Meissonier from the 1720s with the modern idiom of the 'art nouveau'. A gifted sculptor, Messagé was responsible for much of the design and creative work for Roux et Brunet of Paris, of whom one brother, Alexandre Roux had established a highly successful business in New York as early as 1836. Subsequently Messagé designed for Zwiener in the 1880s and from circa 1895, most importantly, for François Linke. It might be argued that without Message's creativity Linke would have remained a fine cabinet maker selling to local clients and dealers and may never have reached out so successfully to the world stage. His Croquis & Dessins, Style Louis XV, Bronzes, Orfêvrerie, Décoration, Meubles was first published by the sculptor himself, from his Paris address of 40, rue Sedaine (undated). There were five sections with an elaborate title page surmounted by the sculptor's cipher or talisman of a wing, a play on his own name as the messenger to the Gods, a feature he used many times on the handles of furniture designed for Linke. The present lot was plate 4 of the second series of designs.
Messagé's widow ceded all extant drawings to Linke on her husbands' death in 1901. Amongst these, in the Messagé folder (no. 24) of the Linke Archives, there are a series of nine pencil sketches showing an erratic progression for the design for the present lot. As if to underline the importance of this design to the sculptor, there are far more drawings for the inkwell than any other piece of his or Linke's work. A further flimsy cahier shows three pages of pencil sketches, which appear to be an amalgam of the present lot and the inkwell shown by Linke at the Exposition Universelle of 1900 (illustrated Payne, Linke, pls. 140 & 157). An example of the Linke cast was sold Christie's London, 29th March 2007, lot 75. However, the present lot is an independent work by Messagé that appears to predate Linke's inkwell by at least ten years.
It is not surprising that in 1921 the Linke exhibition inkwell of 1900 was made available in silver, as many of Messagé's designs appear to have been for domestic silver and flatware. However most of his designs are capable of interpretation into the arguably more difficult process of bronze casting. Indeed, a design for an inkwell in the Messagé folder dated 1888 suggests that it is to be in silver but it is more formal than the full-bodied asymmetric rococo of the present lot designed one year later. The series of Messagé drawings show a progression from the 1888 model with two winged cherubs at each side to the basic rococo lower part without adornment of the same year to the final 1888 version.
An example of this rare cast with Messagé’s signature was sold Sotheby's, London, September 27, 1991, lot 85 (£10,450). The only other recorded example is a cast by the celebrated Parisian fondeur Ferdinand Barbedienne but, most importantly, without the Messagé signature.
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