Registered as a model C, a size first introduced by Steinway in 1884, this grand piano can be distinguished by its profusely mounted case attributed to the most celebrated ébéniste of the Belle Epoque: François Linke (1855-1946). As was the practice among his contemporaries and noteworthy predecessors, Linke initially produced furniture derived from the 18th century. However it was at the 1900 Exposition Universelle that Linke cemented his international renown with a huge display of pieces which daringly combined the exuberant rococo style with sculptural, almost modern, bronzes dorés, winning international acclaim and a Médaille d'Or. On this piano, in typical style Linke, the high-rococo opulence of the Louis XV period is expertly fused with the latest Art Nouveau. The distinctive tight-rope-walking monkey mount to each side is directly inspired by the work of the Régence maker Charles Cressent who variously employed the mount, notably on his commode aux enfants balançant un singe, c. 1749-1755, now in the Musée du Louvre. Cressent (1695-1768) was the son of a sculptor and trained as a wood-carver, the profession of his grandfather, and this lineage is evident in his favoured use of profuse sculptural decoration. Linke, en homage to his ancien régime predecessor, adopts a similar playfully sculptural style in the busts heading the angles of the case with their laced bodices and ruffle-collars.
The Steinway & Sons records show that this model C-227 grand piano in mahogany finish, Serial Number 146240, was made at their New York factory and originally shipped to the piano making firm of Eugène Moullé in Paris on 31 October 1903. It is therefore likely that François Linke acquired the movement and plain case directly from Moullé, perhaps for a client who had specified a Steinway movement. Christopher Payne notes that although 'most documented pianos by Linke appear to have the movements supplied by the Paris firm of Erard [...] there are exceptions'. Referring to the present lot, he continues, a 'Steinway movement, a model C, number 146240, was fitted to a Linke case in satiné with monkey mounts divided by more typical Linke chutes with female heads' (Payne, p. 449).
Other pianos combining Steinway movements with cabinetry by Linke include: Serial Number 152457, with a case modelled after the Bureau du Roi, sold The Marshall B. Coyne Collection, Sotheby's, New York, 6 June 2001, lot 282; Serial Number 130751, with similar caryatid busts to the corners, sold Christie's, New York, 31 October 2000; and Serial Number 118390, offered Sotheby's, London, 27 September 1991, lot 38.
This piano next appears on the Steinway records in London on 3 April 1911 when it is noted as being received from Hamburg with a delivery address of Witley Park, Surrey. If this is correct, it can be assumed that once Linke had completed the case, the piano was sent to the Steinway factory in Hamburg for tuning before finally being shipped to the purchaser at Witley Park, which was at the time home to William James Pirrie, Viscount Pirrie (1847-1924). Lord Pirrie was chairman of Harland and Wolff, the Belfast shipbuilders, notorious for building the SS Titanic which sank on her maiden voyage in 1912. The New York Times records that on the 9 May 1909, Lord Pirrie purchased Witley Park, Surrey, 'one of the finest estates in England', for a price of $1,000,000. The mock-Elizabethan mansion was designed by H. Paxton Watson and boasted thirty-two bedrooms, an observatory, theatre and palm court all set in landscaped gardens with three artificial lakes, one with an underwater glass billiards room. Following the death of Lord Pirrie in 1924, his widow left Witley Park and it can be assumed that the piano was probably removed at this time, as it is not listed in a sale of the contents held by the subsequent owner, Sir John Leigh, in 1952.