This commode was copied from a model by Antoine-Robert Gaudreaux, which is recorded in 1761 in the collection of Monsieur de Selle, controller general of the King’s Chamber. The 4th Marquess of Hertford bought the commode in 1865 and it remains today in the Wallace Collection in London. It was loaned in 1865 to the pioneering exhibition at the Musée Retrospectif in Paris and to the Bethnal Green Museum, London, in 1874-75. François Linke refers to this commode in a pocket notebook issued at the 1900 Paris Universelle exposition: a notebook he is assumed to have carried with him to London. It is likely that Linke had visited the Wallace Collection soon after its opening by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, in June 1900. The note reads ‘voir comode’ (sic), wrongly noting the address of the collection as being in nearby Portman Square. This coincides with the first example of this model by Linke known to have been started in the summer of 1900.
The present lot has the distinction of being the exact same example illustrated in the photograph cliché of Index Number 509 from François Linke’s workshop (reproduced above). It can be identified by the distinctive veined striations of the fleur de pêcher marble top. From the thickness of the marble top, Payne identifies that this exact commode was made in 1909, titled by Linke ‘Commode Wallace bois de violette, bronzes ciseles et dores, 4 tirors, dessus marbre fleur de pêcher de 5 cms, longuer 1m 90, largeur 0.74, hauteur 98 (cm.). Prix 7,500 francs’. The marble alone cost 350 francs to make.
The original commode in the Wallace Collection was published by Emile Molinier in 1898 (reproduced above) when it was thought to have been made by Charles Cressent (d. 1768). Subsequent research has revelled it to be more probably the work of Antoine-Robert Gaudreaux (d. 1746), see P. Hughes, The Wallace Collection - Catalogue of Furniture, London, 1996, vol. II, cat. 177 (F85), pp. 847-852. In Linke’s earlier archives, the Blue Daybooks, this model is listed as ‘Sir Richard Wallace par Charles Cressent’, and later in the green register, as ‘Commode Louis XV d’après Cressent collection Richard Wallace’.
No expense was spared in making this commode the equal of Gaudreaux’s original, with its thick fleur de pêcher marble top set above exquisitely patterned kingwood veneers, all framed with sculptural ormolu mounts of acanthus and dragons.
The total cost of making this model was 2,803 francs in 1900, rising to 2,847 in 1917. The cost of the wood was 200 francs; the cabinet making consistently between 302 and 338 francs. By far the most expensive work was for mounting the bronzes, some 650 francs for the first version but gradually reducing as the fitters gained experience in assembling the complicated foliate patters. The weight of the bronze is listed as 56 kilos, the foundry charging approximately 5 francs per kilo for casting. The entry for gilding the mounts by Maury is listed at 180 francs for ‘17 août 1900’. By 1921 the retail prices of the model was 45,000 francs, rising to 55,000 in August 1926.
Fulfilling his reputation as the finest Parisian ébéniste of the Belle Époque, François Linke actively sought to replicate the defining models of French Royal furniture from the Ancien Régime. Travelling to London to admire Gaudreaux’s commode indicates that Linke ranked this model as a masterpiece worthy of his repertoire. It is probable that Linke was inspired in part by the most distinctive fantastical gilt-bronze dragons handles, which create a particularly exotic effect.