A splendid artistic achievement of the Belle Époque, this magnificent encrier is a testament to François Linke’s extraordinary skill as well as the exuberant taste of the patrons to whom it was almost certainly sold: the Devoto family of Buenos Aires. In a reprisal of the classical tradition, this inkwell is surmounted by a winged allegorical génie holding a flaming torch and a bough of laurels, and flanked by two maidens representative of the arts: one with a lyre for music, the other with a palette for painting. At the feet of the central figure, five frolicking putti exchange whispers among floral sprays and cornucopias in a visual realization of the inscription to the reverse: “Le Génie enseigne ses secrets aux arts et aux sciences.” The hinged cover of each of the four ink pots is chased with a mask, the lateral covers evocative of Apollo, and the central covers of a river god.
The model for the present encrier was first created in ormolu and ivory for one of Linke’s most important clients, Captain Joseph De Lamar, a Dutch emigrant to the United States who amassed considerable fortunes in ship salvaging, mining and trading and constructed lavish residences in New York and on Long Island’s Gold Coast. Though Linke was responsible for the overall design of the encrier, he also collaborated with noted artisans of the era to create this remarkable object, including Edmond Furay Rambaud for the bronze figures, and, as Christopher Payne has suggested, sculptors Bernoud & Schrodel for the finely carved ivory inserts on De Lamar’s encrier (C. Payne, François Linke: The Belle Epoque of French Furniture, Woodbridge, 2003, p. 236, 238, pl. 251). With the exception of the ivory inserts, the present lot reprises the original with exacting detail. It was almost certainly sold to the Devoto family in Buenos Aires in 1911 for 12,208 francs (C. Payne, op cit., p. 238). Its Argentine provenance is further reinforced by the later painted arms to the interior of the inkwells, one with a symbol for the country.
Antonio Devoto amassed a spectacular fortune in Argentina in the early 20th century, largely stemming from his involvement in the financial and agricultural markets of the day. Commensurate to his extraordinary means, Devoto constructed opulent residences in the Argentinian capital, including the Palacio Devoto, which were largely furnished by Linke’s workshop. Inventory records show that Devoto ordered many hundreds of thousands of francs’ worth of furniture and works of art from Linke, including some of the most splendid ever to leave the famed maker’s atelier: the magnificent grand bureau (index number 550) and grand bibliothèque (index number 556) and a monumental régulateur (index number 551), together with a series of splendid boiserie panels (C. Payne, op. cit., p. 258). Following Antonio’s death in 1916, his widow, Elina Pombo de Devoto continued to order furniture and works of art from Linke with great vigor.
While Antonio Devoto had intended to construct a museum for his works by Linke, his heirs appear not to have followed his wishes, and much of his collection was dispersed following his death (C. Payne, op. cit., p. 262). A considerable group of items was sold at auction in Buenos Aires following Elina’s death in 1925 including a splendid Bahut Marine by Linke and other well-known models by the maker, though the present encrier did not figure in this sale. It is, however, a testament to Linke’s virtuosity and his patrons’ extraordinary fortune, and would have occupied pride of place in one of the Devotos’ elegant residences.