This grandiose and opulent commode is the second version (bis) by Linke of his celebrated 'Commode coquille: Coquetterie et Modestie', index number 559. The original model was conceived in conjunction with index number 553, 'Commode Louis XV Figaro (Scène du Barbier de Séville)', and together the two commodes formed an integral and important part of Linke's gold medal-winning stand at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900, where they flanked his most monumental work, the Grande Bibliothèque. Commode 559 was delivered to Elias Meyer in London in September 1909 and after the latter's death in 1925 it was resold to King Fuad I of Egypt, who had already acquired model 553. The two commodes are currently housed at Abdeen Palace, Cairo.
The original concept for 559 incorporated corner chutes that were sculpted in high relief and more overtly reflective the title of the commode with Coquetterie with breasts exposed and Modestie lightly covered. However, the present variant accomplishes a design keeping with the early Louis XV period upon which style Linke has based this highly successful variant. Here the angles become semi-androgynous amorini and are truncated slightly to evoke traditional espagnolettes. In grand Linke fashion, these splendid variant mounts, as well as the sculptural central coquille, were later repurposed for Linke’s center-table number 965, an example of which was sold at Christie’s, New York, 18 November 2014, lot 249 ($377,000). Index number 965 was in fact designed en suite with 559 for the 1900 exhibition, though was finally exhibited among a wider array of furnishings at the Salon des Industries du Mobilier in 1902 (C. Payne, François Linke: The Belle Epoque of French Furniture, Woodbridge, 2003, p. 170). Lastly, Linke substituted the ‘amour triomphont’ (sic) for Léon Messagé’s iconic dolphin which notably appears throughout the sculptor’s Cahier des Dessins et Croquis Style Louis XV of 1890.
Two examples of variant commode 559 bis have been recorded to date; sold at Sotheby's, New York, 10 May 2000, lot 223 ($220,250) and Christie’s, London, 24 February 2005, lot 200 (£220,800). The exciting discovery of the present lot, a third example, revitalizes previous scholarship that two commodes were completed in 1903 and 1906. In research prepared for the commode sold at Christie’s in 2005, Christopher Payne points to the common practice of creating two carcasses in tandem, which was employed by the more successful Paris workshops at the time. In this case, the production of as many as four commodes is entirely possible and an in-depth examination of Linke’s cabinetmaking practices provides greater clarity into the production date of the present lot.
The Archive shows that Linke ordered the wood for two carcasses at the same time and clearly the timber was in stock before the starting date of the first commode September 1903. The timber costs were 238 francs 40 (for both carcasses) and comprised, amongst others, 11 kilos of kingwood, 4 leaves of satiné, 4 of faux satiné and numerous planks of mahogany of different specifications. The bulk of the 1,092 hours of cabinetwork was by Knudsen, with one hundred hours assistance from Viélèle, paid at 85 and 80 centimes per hour respectively. The most expensive outlay was for the extensive chasing, the 1903 set of bronzes worked by Sartori for 700 francs, those for the 1906 version invoiced at 599 francs by Goujon. In each case the gilding was the traditional mercure Pierre method. Commode 559 bis was furnished with fleur de pêcher marble top, with the first carved by Huvé in 1903. The registre lists each marble top as 4 cm. thick and 60 cm. deep, as with the present lot. Linke's clerk lists the 1903 marble as being the wider at 141 cm., as on the present lot, and with the 1906 at 140.5 cm. While Payne infers that the the differences may well be down to simple human error, the larger width of the marble top points to production in 1903 alongside the commode shown in Linke’s original cliché. At the time of construction the retail price of 559 bis was 9,000 francs, with the average total construction cost being 3,000 francs each. Amongst the archive material for the present lot illustrated here are the cabinet and monture (bronze mounting) plans, two of several hundred in the Linke Archive. An unusual and rare gouache design survives for the a trellis marquetry panel showing the vibrantly colored stains for the foliage, traces of which miraculously survive on the present lot.
The aforementioned scholarship and the Linke Archive itself have no documentation as to who bought the recorded versions of 559 bis, although a pencil note in the registre shows that those recorded were sent to Russia in 1913. Most interestingly, the commode sold at Christie’s London in 2005 was confirmed to be in Paris in the 1940s, when it was reputedly purchased from a dealer by a cousin of the then owner. According to family tradition, this example of 559 bis was also acquired by the present owner’s aunt in Paris from a dealer (possibly Jansen) in the mid-20th century, further supporting that it was created in tandem with the 1903 example and almost certainly completes the pair.