Lot 226
  • 226

An important and rare Rococo-style gilt bronze and Vernis-Martin decorated grand piano Paris, circa 1891, the art-case by Joseph-Emmanuel Zwiener or François Linke, the bronze designed by Léon Messagé

300,000 - 500,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • ivory and ebony
  • height 41 in.; length 93 in.; width 69 3/4 in.
  • 104 cm; 236.5 cm; 177.5 cm
the Erard musical instrument numbered 73440 and inscribed Par Brevet d'Invention, Seb. & Pre Erard, 13 & 21, rue du Mail, Paris, the keyboard made of ivory and ebony. The four seated putti are not original to the initial design and are later replacements.  



For the two drawings of similar pianos, one by Léon Messagé, the other unattributed, see: Payne. C.; Francois Linke (1855-1946) The Belle Epoque of French Furniture, Antique Collectors Club, Woodbridge, 2003, p. 452, plates 537 & 538.


IMPORTANT CONDITION NOTE: The condition of the piano is fair, with a carcass decorated with Verni-Martin paintings that are well executed. The Verni shows some light cracquelure throughout, consistent with age. All bronzes apart from the putti above the legs are original to the piano and are executed with the highest quality standards. All bronzes apart from the putti mentioned above have retained their original gilding. As visible in the catalogue illustration, there is some green oxidization to the bottom of the legs and pedals. It is possible, but not confirmed, that mounts are lacking on either side of the front piano flanking the keyboard. There is some extensive scratching and wear to the top edge of the piano, and one more significant scratch to the inner left-hand side of the piano lid. There is one area of extensive chipping to the inner lid, and some restoration and overpainting to the Verni-Martin on the inner lid as well. There is extensive wear and scratches along the sides and to the top of the piano edge where the lid rests. There are patches of overpainting to the back left-hand side of the lid. Some bronze molding will need to be re-fastened to the carcass. IMPORTANT CONDITION NOTE: The four putti decorating the piano, three placed to the top of the legs and one at the mount on the concave edge, are later replacements and are not original to the piano design. Following research, the original mounts would have been female busts, as visible in the black and white watercolor illustrated in the catalogue, or in the Francois Linke book written by Christopher Payne in 2003, page 453. plate 539. Please call the head of the department, Xavier Jover, should you wish to discuss the present condition of this lot in further detail or receive complementary photos of the piano. The piano has, nonetheless, an impressive presentation and has been catalogued as important and rare. The overall design and bronze mount translate in a very dynamic roccoco manner. The piano origin is thoroughly discussed by Christopher Payne in the footnote available online at sothebys.com.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

While the inspiration for this extraordinary piano a queue clearly has its roots in the sculptural genius of Leon Messagé, the actual maker of the case is more problematic. 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.  He published a quantity of his work in his Cahier des Dessins & Croquis Style Louis XV, the second issue being circa 1890 whilst Zwiener was still in Paris and Linke had become an independent maker in his own right. Messagé's  'Cahier' shows that he too was an independent designer, having supplied designs to Linke since circa 1885 and working with or for Zwiener since probably 1880 or 1881.

The present lot appears to be from two drawings from the archives of François Linke. Linke indeed made a model of a similar piano to the present lot, index number 1400, fitted with Erard movement number 92430. This was made in May 1907, the Erard number consistent with the period between 1900 and 1910. Apart from three recorded exceptions, Linke appears to have favoured movements by Erard and this seems likely for cases made by Zwiener and the company that took over Zwiener's master models, Maison Jansen. For example, a Zwiener Jansen case veneered in kingwood, dating to circa 1900 with Erard movement 80560, and exhibited at the Paris Exposition Universelle was sold at Christie's London, September 28, 2006, lot 15 which sold for 243,200 GPB being the equivalent of $457,000 at the time.

Such pianos were exceptionally expensive at the time of making, combining both the best technical aspects of piano making by one of the world's most prestigious makers, with cabinet making and bronze casting of world class proportions, emulating the very best of the eighteenth century but arguably surpassing the technical ability reached in the ancien regime in Paris. The very best of the Paris cabinet makers with a record for making elaborate cases were Francois Linke and Emmanuel Zwiener, both candidates for the present lot. It is only in recent years that it has become possible to distinguish between the two makers, sometimes categorically; sometimes the attribution is based on experience and circumstance. The difficulty arises simply from two common factors. Fist, Linke is believed to have started his early life in the 1870s in Paris working for Zwiener. This has never been proved categorically but the circumstancial evidence is quite compelling. The mother tongue of both craftsmen was German, Zwiener born in Germany, Linke in Bohemia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Linke as a young journeyman arrived in Paris in 1875 where he sought sanctuary amongst the host of immigrant workers in the Paris furniture trade 'les hommes vapeur'. Within this group were many other German speakers and with his evident skills as a cabinet maker and his highly disciplined training was inevitably drawn to the best maker in Paris at the time, Emmanuel Zwiener. In Linke's native village of Pankraz the local record book, the 'Gedenkbuch', states that he (Linke) 'worked in Paris with German masters'. His bachelor lodgings were in the heart of the French furniture trade and in the same street where Zwiener had his workshops at 12 rue de la Roquette. If this is not enough evidence of their collaboration or at least that Linke worked for Zwiener, the common link with both makers is the French sculptor Leon Message (1842-1901). The underlying principle of Message's strategy was the light-hearted rococo, so evident in the present lot, that grew out of the Baroque popular in Royal circles in Paris in the 1690s.

The blurring of manufacturing styles and techniques between these two consummate world-class makers does not afford a definite attribution. The dolphin seen on the side of the piano is almost identical to one used by Linke, the master model still in the Linke archives. The open trellis was used by both makers and is particularly evident on the front of the magnificent grand regulateur signed by Zwiener, sold Sotheby's New York October 26, 2010, lot 147 which sol for $ 722,500. However there is a certain lightness that Linke infused into his work not always seen in Zwiener executed furniture. This coupled with the fact that most Linke pieces with gilt-bronze mounts has Linke's reference number on the reverse of the bronze, normally coupled with his name 'LINKE' or initials "FL'. Neither is present in this piano. Zwiener however did sometimes use the mark 'ZN' on the reverse of his bronze castings but not exclusively and, seemingly, not at the very beginning of his career in Paris.

A further but unlikely attribution might be the Paris firm of Roux et Brunet, established at 20 rue de la Perle in 1889. Frederic Roux was working in Paris from 1839 but his brother Alexandre had been in New York from 1839. Comparatively little is known about these intriguing makers of French furniture whose work can be seen at Versailles, was exhibited in New York at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in  'Nineteenth Century America' April to September 1970. Linke purchased thirteen lots of designs and or master models from the effects of Roux et Brunet in March 1897. Indeed the Linke so called 'crab-like acanthus' that so readily identifies Linke's oeuvre, was bought on a bureau from the Roux sale. The Roux firm had commissioned Linke to make furniture for them in Linke's early days in Paris, circa 1890. Once again the common theme appears to be the work of the sculptor Leon Messagé. Payne in Linke illustrates two drawings of pianos of this style, one, numbered 167 is definitely by the hand of Message, probably an early design from the 1870s to early 1880s. The other, the closest to the present lot, is a more worked up drawing, possibly Linke encouraging Message to a more practical model that can be executed with the highly complex gilt-bronze mounts which would be almost impossible to make from the earlier drawing. Notes in Messagé's handwriting have recently been found that suggest he also designed and made sculptural mounts for the firm of Boudet of 43 Boulevard des Capucines, Paris. Similarities with the mounts later used by Zwiener as well as Linke can be seen on a bureau plat and cartonnier, sold Sotheby's New York, 29 & 30 October 1982.

Footnote courtesy of Christopher Payne