Francois Linke — Premier French Cabinetmaker and Designer of Pieces for the Discerning

Beginnings in France’s Second Empire (1848-1870)

Like beauty in nature, beauty in art evokes an emotional response. Sublime works of art, like those found in Francois Linke’s creations, display not only timeless visual beauty, but reflect and shape the culture in which they were created. Linke was born in June of 1855 just a few years after Louis Napoleon (nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte) seized power to become France’s dictator, renaming himself Napoleon III. Napoleon’s goal was to restore France to its former glory. Under his reign her economy and banking system were strengthened, French furniture and products were in high demand, and the fully redesigned city of Paris emerged as the epicenter of business and the flourishing arts.

Francois Linke’s birth in 1855 meant that by the time he had completed his apprenticeship in 1873 to Neuman, a master cabinetmaker, Napoleon, through control of public opinion and outward appearance, had achieved his goal of promoting Paris as the center of world culture. Paris, with its new museums, upscale brownstones, and wide boulevards had undergone a process of gentrification that now drew business, the bourgeoisie, and their money. It is no wonder that Linke, born in the small Bohemian town of Pankraz into a family of 11 children on a farm that provided no more than base survival, would be drawn to the seductive city Paris had become when he first visited in 1875. He realized his goal of residence in Paris in 1878 and began working with German cabinetmakers. By 1881 he married Julie Teutsch, leased workshops in the Faubourg St. Antoine and supplied furniture to more established cabinetmakers where his pieces already exceeded the quality and excellence of the cabinetmakers he supplied.

Linke’s Gamble. The 1900 Paris Fair (Exposition Universelle)

In 1892 it was announced that Paris would bring in the new century with the grandest international showcase yet – the 1900 Paris Fair the (Exposition Universelle). One of the fair’s commissioners, a Victor Champier, issued a missive to the top designers:

“Create in the manner of the masters, but do not copy what they have made.”

The challenge excited Linke. He was energized by the chance to produce innovative pieces for the upcoming exposition where he planned to test the bounds of extravagance, luxury, and bold design such as never seen before. For the anticipated success of this challenge he knew he needed the additional talents of sculptor Leon Message. Linke and Message had worked together on various projects beginning in 1885, and they had achieved prior collaborative success at the 1889 Paris Fair the (Grand Prix Exposition de Paris). For the upcoming exposition, they would join talents again with Message working on the designs and embellishments for Linke’s pieces. A secondary reason for Linke’s desire to showcase his work at the exposition pertained to the expense of bringing his sumptuous designs to fruition. Linke kept meticulous records of his work and was aware that he needed to reach a broader international clientele with money for his business to expand. Since Linke had no commissions or buyers lined up for the pieces he was designing for the exhibition, he used his own fortune to pay for the expensive work on the submissions. He knew his reputation was also on the line. The 1900 Paris Fair (Exposition Universelle) was where he would make his stand. He had to win or face bankruptcy.

Linke Catapulted to Instant Fame

Linke’s artistic excellence was rewarded and his professional reputation permanently secured when he received the gold medal for his le Grand Bureau, a magnificent writing desk and chair. The piece was crafted of Rococo sculptural gilt bronze mounted kingwood, with satine and fruitwood marquetry. Linke used the classic examples of Louis XV and XVI for inspiration without copying the previous work, he then incorporated contemporary fluid Art Nouveau lines. It was the design collaboration between Linke and Message that made Linke’s unique creations possible, showing joyous allegorical figures cast in high relief and seamless merging of the wood carving, bronze, and marquetry into a unified whole.

The Bureau Du Roi

During Linke’s career there were certain pieces that inspired him. The Bureau Du Roi was one of his favorites as evidenced by the three examples of his own versions of the desk completed in 1902, 1910, and 1922 as noted in his green register. His register notes a fourth desk also started in 1922 that remained unfinished until work on it restarted after the liberation of Paris in 1944. The Bureau Du Roi or Kings Desk is possibly the most famous and luxurious piece ever made in the 18th century. The original desk was ordered by Louis XV in 1760 for his private study. The desk had lavish gilt-bronze mounts and symbolic marquetry. Several artisans worked on the original desk which took nine years to complete. The roll-top had a mechanism that allowed the king to lock all his papers in a single key turn. The Bureau Du Roi boasted bronze mounts representing Apollo and Calliope and there were further embellishments and marquetry depicting science and the arts. The sides of the desk had cast gilt bronze cornucopia and inlaid marquetry flowers. The drawers contained everything a ruler would want, drawers with hidden compartments, and drawers that slid smoothly from the front of the desk to the king’s side for delivering hands-free missives to supplicants. A necessary secret compartment provided space for hiding a ruler’s valuables. The desk carcass of each Linke model of the Bureau Du Roi was stamped twice F. Linke to the underside.

Linke—Creative Talent, Life, and Success

There were many ebenistes in France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but few were as successful as Francois Linke. His fresh intuitive talent, solid reputation, craftsmanship and business acumen, established him as the premier ebeniste of his day. His achievement of the gold medal at the 1900 Paris Fair solidified his fame and ensured his pieces would be sought after and renowned to the present day. Linke and his wife had four children: Caroline, Francois, Henriette, and Charles. He became a naturalized Frenchman 1894 and in 1906 he was awarded France’s highest accolade the Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Legion d’honneur. Linke went on to oversee the exclusive furniture house, La Maison Linke until World War II broke out. The brilliant ebeniste was still producing pieces at the age of 70 and shipping furniture to King Faud of Egypt. The value of his work stays constant.

For those wishing to add works by Francois Linke to a private collection, a good place to look would be at some of the Dania Beach, FL auction houses. They sometimes offer pieces by beloved artists such as Mr. Linke.

Selling the Works of Francois Linke

Do you have works by Francois Linke that you are interested in selling, appraising, or cosigning? Call Joshua Kodner today, and ensure you receive the true value of your property.