Mounted with a lavish central cartouche emblematic of love, the present commode reprises one of the most celebrated and widely admired models of the Ancien Régime. The original, completed by Guillaume Benneman from a piece originally begun by Joseph Stöckel, was installed in Louis XVI’s bedroom at the Château de Compiègne in 1786 following Benneman’s extensive refurbishments. Today, it is in the collections of the Louvre (OA 5507). Though this commode was frequently reproduced in the 19th century, Christopher Payne has suggested that the present lot is the only version created by the preeminent 19th century cabinetmaker, François Linke.
The rich bronze mounts with doves and foliate garlands, the sumptuous mahogany veneers and the impressive lion paw feet on the present commode are directly drawn from the Compiègne model. However, unlike many pieces of Royal furniture which were widely dispersed during the French Revolution, the location of the original Benneman commode can be closely documented through to the present day. During the Revolution, it was moved to the Palais de Luxembourg. It was then in the Palais des Tuileries in Napoleon’s apartments which were subsequently occupied by the Restauration monarchs Louis XVIII and Charles X. Following the July Revolution, it was moved within the palace to Louis Philippe’s, salon de famille and it remained in the Tuileries through the Second Empire until it was moved, in 1870, to the Louvre. This distinguished progression alludes to the importance of the original commode which – unlike many of the most famous works of art commissioned for the French royal family in the 18th century – remained in close quarters to the ever-changing succession of rulers brought about by the political upheaval of 19th century France.
Though many other renowned Parisian furniture makers created replicas of the model in the late 19th century, it is significant that Linke only made one, especially considering the prolific output of his workshop. Payne has indicated that there is but one notation for this index number 776 in the construction records of Linke’s workshop, and further notes that Linke visited the Louvre to view and make sketches from the original. Based on dating from the workshop registers, Payne suggests the present commode was created circa 1899 – 1903, then packed in March 1910, and ultimately shipped for Argentina along with an extensive group of similar reproductions of Royal models.
The commode, which Linke entitled 'Commode à oiseaux,’ in an allusion to its elaborate central mount, is documented in one of his workshop’s daybook entries which lists the extensive steps to its creation – of similar length and complexity to that required to make the original (see C. Payne, François Linke, 1855-1946 – The Belle Epoque of French Furniture, Woodbridge, 2003, p. 482, index no. 776). Payne states that it required 848 hours for the carcass to be created, and that the commode was eventually listed for the considerable retail price of 8,500 French francs.
The present lot replicates Benneman’s original in almost exact detail, including its impressive size. Two notable exceptions, however, separate Linke’s commode from the original: the top to the present lot is in Linke’s preferred marble, fleur de pêcher, as opposed to the white marble top on the original, and the three central drawers on the Benneman commode are here substituted with a single cupboard door enclosing a shelf, a reflection of the late 19th century penchant for functionality. However, owing to its rarity, this sumptuous commode could be viewed as Linke’s homage to the great Ancien Régime cabinet. While the original was prized by rulers of France from late 18th century through the tumultuous 19th century, the present, unique work, was no doubt the centrepiece of a quintessential Belle Époque collection, which reprised the glories of centuries past whilst harnessing the daring ambition of the era.