Based on the celebrated pair of sumptuous commodes à vantaux created for Marie-Antoinette’s salon des jeux at the Château de Fontainebleau, the present commode by François Linke perfectly encapsulates the late 19th century fascination with and desire to emulate the world of the Ancien Régime. Its finely chased mounts of scrolling rinceaux and refined porcelain plaques precisely recall those on the 18th century originals, whilst its slightly reduced size and modified interior – shelves instead of the drawers in the Benneman original – give new life and functionality to the renowned cabinets made for the celebrated French Queen.
Guillaume Benneman was one of Marie-Antoinette’s preferred makers. He created splendid furniture during the final years of the Ancien Régime for the Château de Versailles, the Palais des Tuileries and the Château Saint-Cloud for prestigious clients including Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and the comte de Provence. Like many makers in the 18th century, his works were the product of artistic collaboration, and his confrères included the likes of bronziers Thomire, Ravrio and Feuchère. The pair of commodes he created for Marie-Antoinette, the inspiration for the present lot, was part of a series of eight which were ultimately transformed through a complex and costly process from a group of four begun by Joseph Stöckel. The pair at Fontainebleau were originally destined for Marie-Antoinette’s bedroom at the Château de Compiègne, and later placed in her salon des jeux at the Château de Fontainebleau, a splendid room of superlative neo-classical design with wall panels painted with delicate arabesques.
Benneman’s commodes combine the rich mahogany veneers and dual-toned Biscuit porcelain plaques that epitomized the refined neoclassical furniture designs of the Louis XVI period. In his seminal research charting the creation of the set of eight commodes, from which the original pair by Stöckel/Benneman model is issued, Pierre Verlet remarks the importance and extraordinary beauty of the original model as well as its harmonious incorporation into the grand salon at Fontainebleau: 'Quel effet devaient-elles faire, quelle harmonie pourraient-elles redonner au Salon des Jeux! Leurs arabesques, leurs médaillons, leurs camaïeux sont destinés à se marier avec les motifs semblables que le peintre Sauvage a dessinés sur les murs.’ (P. Verlet, Le Mobiler Royal Français, Paris, 1992, v. II, p. 110).
François Linke’s clientele would, no doubt, have understood the importance of this model as they hastened to furnish their grand residences in a style reminiscent of the splendid rooms of Fontainebleau. The present commode, index number 904, is of a slightly smaller size than the original at Fontainebleau, and was retailed by Linke for 5,500 French francs. Its reduced size would, no doubt, have been easier to place in a modern interior than a full-sized replica and its production is a reflection of Linke’s business savvy. Also of note, the present commode is mounted with three jasperware plaques by the English manufactory, Wedgwood, while the original is applied with a single Sèvres porcelain plaque to the front created in imitation of Wedgwood. Another commode of similar size but slightly varied decoration – with only one porcelain plaque – was sold from a private European collection, Christie’s, London, 22 September 2011, lot 32 (£73,250).
Linke also replicated the Stöckel/Benneman model in a slightly larger size, retailing it as index number 203. A line engraving for index number 203 showing the detailed and complicated process behind its design and creation is illustrated in C. Payne, François Linke, 1855-1946 - The Belle Epoque of French Furniture, Woodbridge, 2003, p. 475 and a cliché of the same in C. Payne op. cit., p. 489. The presence of these in his workshop underscores the importance of both the model to Linke’s production and its tremendous influence on the history of the French decorative arts. Indeed, to 19th century clientele, Marie-Antoinette was one of the most legendary and romanticized figures of the Ancien Régime, and to be surrounded by furniture in imitation of her own was le nec plus ultra.