1- Francois Linke Bahut Marine

Francois Linke Bahut Marine


This large and unique cabinet by Francois Linke was sold at Christie’s London for £780,450 in December 2010.
It could be argued that Francois Linke’s furniture marks the pinnacle of cabinet-making. His constructions reflect all that was learnt from generations of cabinetmakers and are unrivalled in their sophistication and excellence. However even the best craftsmanship is not proof against the demands of time and climate and, inevitably, the large blocks of wood used to create the amazing bombé shapes will shrink.  As a result of the shrinkage and drying out of the original glue, the condition of the cabinet was poor with many areas lifting and there were many areas of missing kingwood, in particular around the door. 
We were lucky to be in a position to purchase (at a very high cost!) some of the veneer left over from Linke’s own workshop.  The colour of the wood was perfect and we still have some of this veneer left for any future Linke projects.
For the first time in our long history of restoring 19th century furniture, it was decided to not clean the gilt bronzes.  Their condition was relatively good with no corrosion.  However, during previous restorations, the cabinets had been re-polished (re-varnished) without removing the gilt bronzes.  This resulted in many drips and runs of lacquer on the gilt bronzes.  We carefully cleaned these unsightly residues without losing the beautiful colouring and patina of the gilding.  We were delighted with the result and felt very happy that original patina was preserved.  This conservative approach is very unusual for 19th / 20th century furniture and we do hope that the present example will encourage 19th century collectors to follow this lead.  We tend to have a conservative approach to gilt bronzes and finishing on 18th century furniture and we are trying to persuade our clients towards moving towards a more conservative approach even on furniture used daily. 
Our study of the original finish on this Linke cabinet and other Linke pieces revealed that a very light coat of resin lacquer had been followed by an application of wax.  The grain of the wood was barely filled and the finish extremely thin.  Such original, wax based finishes are very tactile and give a very beautiful but satin effect.  Many samples were produced to try to replicate the lightness of the original finish However, the client rejected these in favour of a thicker, shinier varnish.  
Below is the Christie’s catalogue description of the unique Linke cabinet:
Unique, the magnificent Bahut Marine, index number 560, epitomises the style Linke which was unveiled by its creator at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle and which demonstrates the pinnacle of artistic collaboration achieved between the ébéniste and his sculptor, Léon Messagé. As a fragile page dating from 1898 and glued into the front of his Blue Daybook for index numbers 537-708 reveals, this cabinet was included on a list of twenty-five pieces which Linke fully intended to have ready for the opening of the exhibition. However, the pressure on his workshops and the financial strain of producing such innovative, sumptuous and large-scale pieces as the Grande Bibliothèque, the show-stopper of the 1900 stand, resulted in only sixteen pieces being completed in time, the unfinished items having to wait until subsequent exhibitions to be shown. The Bahut Marine was one such piece, and although begun in 1899 it was not completed until 1904 when it was exhibited for the first time at the St Louis World Fair. Interestingly, Linke's notes on payment for the labour of those who collaborated on the cabinet reveals for the first time how much Messagé charged him for his work, in this case 5.50 francs per hour for a total of 234 hours. Fernand Dubois, an assistant sculptor, was paid 3 francs per hour, and the cabinetmakers Adolf and Finck just 1 franc per hour (Payne, p. 81). Excluding the woods for the marquetry panels which were bought separately by the marqueteur, the total cost of timbers required for the carcass and veneers amounted to 539,50 francs (Payne, p. 372, pl. 414). 

The first owner of the Bahut Marine was Captain Joseph Raphael De Lamar (1843-1918), a Dutchman by birth who spent his early life at sea, first in the merchant service and then, during and immediately after the Civil War years in America, as a successful submarine contractor, principally raising sunken ships the length of the Eastern seaboard. When gold fever struck Leadville, Colorado, in 1878, De Lamar abandoned the marine business and headed West to buy up several claims. Soon after he purchased what became known as the De Lamar mines, which just two years later he sold for a handsome profit, having already extracted huge quantities of both gold and silver. He continued to be either the sole owner of, or major shareholder in, several other mining concerns, and his rapidly increasing fortune allowed him to become one of the country's leading financiers as well as a major player on Wall Street over a twenty year period. In 1888, after briefly flirting with politics in the Idaho State Senate, De Lamar settled in New York and but for a few years at the turn of the century living in Paris, remained there for the rest of his life.

Resident in Paris at the time and already a keen collector of art, De Lamar was undoubtedly a repeat visitor to the 1900 Exposition Universelle, and it is almost certainly there that he first encountered the inimitable style Linke. However, De Lamar's first recorded purchases from Linke, totalling 23,050 francs and made later that same year (Payne, p. 236), were mostly from existing stock and, perhaps in keeping with the interior of his Parisian home on avenue du Bois de Boulogne, reflected the more traditional Louis XV interpretations of the ébéniste's earlier output. Four years later, however, having returned to New York and with the building of one of the city's grandest Beaux-Arts mansions nearing completion, it was a completely different story following De Lamar's visit to Linke's stand at the St Louis World Fair. The most important of his significant purchases that year was the second example of Linke's chef d'oeuvre, the Grande Bibliothèque, the first of which he would have seen at the 1900 exhibition, and a photograph of which was displayed on the St Louis stand. Against the wall directly below the photograph was the present cabinet, whose nautical theme and marquetry panels depicting life on the ocean floor would have appealed immediately to the former seafarer and submariner. Other major purchases from St Louis included a sumptuous and unique dining suite, comprising a table, twelve chairs (one of which can be seen in the photograph of the stand) and buffet, index numbers 726, 727 and 728, and the innovative four-sided bois de violette vitrine, index number 608, also being shown for the first time. It would seem that De Lamar did not actually take delivery of these purchases until the following year, and indeed, the Bahut Marine actually returned to Paris after the St Louis exhibition and was shown again at the 1905 Salon du Mobilier before being shipped back across the Atlantic to New York. It may be supposed that this was all due to the fact that neither the second Grande Bibliothèque, nor C. P. H. Gilbert's correspondingly opulent new mansion for De Lamar at 233 Madison Avenue, were completed until 1905.

Given that the records in the Linke archive for Captain De Lamar's transactions are fairly minimal, the best picture of his substantial collection of Linke furniture is to be found in the catalogue of the sale of the contents of the Madison Avenue mansion (now the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland), held 20-22 November 1919, almost a year after his death of pneumonia, aged seventy-five. There, in addition to all of the major purchases from the St Louis stand, a quantity of bedroom furniture ordered subsequently from Linke in 1908 (Payne, p. 238) and, presumably, many of the items from the original 1900 order, are included a number of significant pieces which De Lamar had purchased at the sales of other key New York-based clients of Linke held during the preceding decade. Principal among these were another of the four-sided vitrines (lot 422), this one the original acajou prototype, from the sale of George Crocker, held 4-6 January 1912, and the unique settee (lot 423), index number 1410, with reverse mounts matching those of the Bahut Marine, from the sale of Isaac D. Fletcher, 22-23 November 1918. Sadly, the latter was bought barely a week before De Lamar's own sudden death. Also included in the sale as lot 347, presumably part of the 1908 order from Linke, was the ornate dressing-table, index number 1738, again featuring the same conch-blowing tritons and similar marquetry panel to that found on the Bahut Marine. Interestingly, although bought by different purchasers at the De Lamar sale and subsequently separated for several decades, the dressing-table and Bahut were later to find their way back into the same collection and were offered together at auction in 1988 (see Sotheby's, New York, October 12 1988, lots 198 and 200). Acquired by the same purchaser, they remained together until 2003 when the dressing-table was sold in these rooms, coincidentally along with the dining suite from the De Lamar sale (see Christie's, London, 20 March 2003, lots 191 and 192, £117,250 and £548,450 respectively).

The purchaser of the Bahut Marine at the De Lamar sale was one Peter W. Rouss, son and heir of Charles B. Rouss, founder of the famous New York department store at 555 Broadway. A fanatic yachtsman and keen horse-breeder, Rouss also had a passion for art, filling his mansion at 320 Garfield Place, Brooklyn with fine furniture, sculpture and paintings. In 1936, four years after her husband's death, Ellen Swan Rouss sold the contents of the mansion and in the New York Times write up for the auction the Bahut Marine, or "endive-scrolled marqueterie (sic) cabinet" as it was described, is noted as having been bought by the prominent Manhattan antique dealers and gallery, Clapp & Graham Company, for $900 (New York Times, 25 October 1936). The cabinet next appears as lot 132 in the sale of the collection of Emil Winter, removed from his gothic Pittsburgh mansion, 'Lyndhurst' and held at Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 15-17 January 1942. Winter was a highly successful banker and industrialist, owning steel companies in his native Pittsburgh, as well as huge extracting plants for magnesite ore in Austria. Between 1912 and 1925 he ordered approximately seventeen items from Linke (Payne, p. 252) and, amongst other lots, from the De Lamar sale in 1919 he purchased the Grande Bibliothèque for $1,650. At the Winter sale the Bahut Marine was purchased by Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge and her husband, Marcellus Hartley Dodge, Sr. for $1,075. The youngest child of William Avery Rockefeller, Jr., the Standard Oil Tycoon, Ethel Geraldine Rockefeller, as she was born, had an estimated personal fortune of $101 million. Dodge, an heir to the Hartley and Phelps Dodge fortunes and later president of the Remington Arms Company, had $60 million himself, and at the time of the couple's marriage in 1907 they were described in social circles as the wealthiest newly-weds in America. Together they owned huge tracts of land in New Jersey, eventually residing on their own separate but abutting estates, his Hartley Farms, and hers Giralda Farms. She was recognised as a philanthropist, a benefactor to communities, the arts, non-profit and natural resource efforts, as an author, a breeder of dogs and the founder of the Morris and Essex Dog Club, whose internationally recognised show each May was for decades considered the most prestigious in America. With no heir (the couple's only child, a son, had been killed in an automobile accident in France in 1930), at her death Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge left $85 million to establish a foundation in her name, and the contents of Giralda were sold in a series of auctions held two years later. It is not known who acquired the Bahut Marine in the final of these sales, where it brought $14,500, or to whom it belonged during the thirteen years up until its sale at Sotheby's, New York, in 1988 for a sum twenty times greater.