A rare gilt bronze firescreen with espagnolettes signed by François LINKE and BOUHON Frères, circa 1900

Gilt bronze, metallic mesh

Dimensions : H : 27’’ 3/16 ; W : 33’’ 1/16 ; D : 7’’ 7/8.

Signed « F. Linke » and « Bouhon » on the right foot.

Circa 1900.

This large gilt bronze firescreen, inspired from the Regence and Louis XV styles witnesses the collaboration of two great actors of the French late 19th century decorative arts, both celebrated at the 1900 Universal Exhibition, François Linke and the Maison Bouhon Frères.

A collaboration between two great companies at the turn of the 20th century

François Linke (1855-1946) remains nowadays well-known for his pieces of furniture, sometimes surprising, and always of extreme lavishness, where wood and gilt bronze are bringing each other out. He certainly was the most prominent French furniture manufacturer from the late 19th century until the eve of the Second World War, revealed at the 1900 Exposition. A cabinetmaker of Czech origin, Linke arrived in Paris in 1875 and opened a shop on the Faubourg Saint-Antoine in 1881, which was visited by several rulers and personalities from around the world: the King of Sweden, the King of the Belgians, American heiress Anna Gould, Prince Radziwill. His most spectacular command was that of the King of Egypt Fouad I for the Ras el-Tin Palace in Alexandria, whose only equivalent is to be found in the orders of Louis XIV for Versailles.

François Linke at his desk, cover photograph for Christopher Payne, François Linke 1855-1946, The Belle Epoque of French Furniture, Woodbridge, Antique Collectors' Club, 2003.
« Shell » chest of drawers exhibited to the Universal Exhibition of 1900 in Paris and again in Liège in 1905.
Christopher Payne, François Linke 1855-1946, The Belle Epoque of French Furniture, Woodbridge, Antique Collectors' Club, 2003 , p. 144.

A specialist in the Regence and Rococo styles, he worked from 1885 with the sculptor Léon Messagé towards the renewal of these past forms for a modern design. They obtained hence an original style halfway between the Rococo and the Art Nouveau. The skilled sculptor does not usually sign his contributions, very few objects with his signature are known while his collaboration with Linke is proven. It is along with Leon Messagé that a true "Linke style" is shaped, with espagnolettes in particular, of which we have here a good example. These small ornamental women busts, invented by Charles Cressent, characterize the gallant, feminine and intimate spirit of the Regency.

In upstream work for the 1900 Universal Exhibition, both artists redoubled their efforts to design original and technically impressive pieces. François Linke foresees twenty-five pieces for his stand, but will only be able to complete thirteen which form an already impressive exhibition, rewarded with a gold medal. Numerous drawings by Léon Messagé attest to the enthusiastic emulation of the two artists about the exhibition project. The sculptor develops on this occasion a series of specific motifs that enable us to situate our firescreen in the continuity of this fertile period around 1900.

François Linke’s stand at the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris.

Léon Messagé notably uses at this time the motif of corn ear coated on a shell, as on the "shell" Chest of drawer sent to the 1900 Universal Exhibition. As Messagé died in 1901, all of his models were acquired by Linke, so that this shell is used again for a table presented to the Exhibition of the industries and furniture of Paris in 1902 and then at the 1905 Universal Exhibition in Liège.

The attributes of love chiseled in the center of the firescreen also recall this intimist vogue. The two lovers doves, the Cupid's quiver, are here covered with finely chiseled foliage and flowers, with a precision also characteristic of Messagé.

Table presented to the Exhibition of the industries and furniture of Paris in 1902 and then at the 1905 Universal Exhibition in Liège.
Christopher Payne, François Linke 1855-1946, The Belle Epoque of French Furniture, Woodbridge, Antique Collectors' Club, 2003, p. 173.

However, the Linke Company doesn't usually make firescreen, and to realize this one, it hence had to call on its colleague from the 1900 Universal Exhibition, specialized in fireplace accessories, the Bouhon Frères Company.

Formerly Maison Clavier, and then Bouhon et Cie until 1898, the Maison Bouhon Frères is by 1900 an already old and reputed company in the field of fireplaces and their accessories in bronze and wrought iron. Their shop is situated in 12, rue Dubelleyme in the Marais district of Paris, and they are called several times to be part of the exhibitions' jury. Bouhon father is notably a not competing member of the jury for the 1889 Universal Exhibition. Thomas and Joseph Bouhon, the two brothers, developed the family company towards the copy of antique works and museum fireplaces, but they also care for their production of new designs.

According to Victor Champier, critic of the Universal Exhibitions:

"The furnishings of fireplaces, andirons, etc., have always provided the bronze industry with the motifs that earned its most striking successes ... At this time it is the Maison Bouhon that maintains with the most constancy and success our old French reputation in this specialty."

Victor Champier, Les Industries d’art à l’Exposition Universelle de 1900, Paris, aux bureaux de la Revue des arts décoratifs, 1902.

Hence, the fireplace accessories designed by Bouhon Frères are noticed at the 1900 Universal Exhibition as they are displaying for the first time with this business name. Victor Champier shows part of it among the thousands of works presented at this exhibition, and they are congratulated by the international jury for these "completely new" firescreens and andirons. It received the gold medal at this fair, just as it had received it at the 1897 Universal Exhibition in Brussels.

Our object signed Linke, where the bronze work is particularly precise and sophisticated, has thus everything of a Leon Messagé model around 1900. Since François Linke was often solicited to furnish entire rooms, such as Elias Meyer's apartment in 1909, Linke may have had to solicit his colleagues for pieces that did not belong to cabinetmaking, such as this firescreen co-signed by Bouhon Frères.

Drawing room entirely furnished by François Linke at Elias Meyer’s in London, 1909.
Christopher Payne, François Linke 1855-1946, The Belle Epoque of French Furniture, Woodbridge, Antique Collectors' Club, 2003, p. 243.

The Turn of the Century : the Universal Exhibition of 1900

In 1900, Paris hosted the Universal Exhibition for the fifth time. The theme was "Le bilan d'un siècle," meaning to celebrate the achievements of the past century and move on to the next. Ten times larger than the first World's Fair hosted by Paris in 1855, it took place from April 15th to November 12th and had nearly 51 million visitors (the population of France being of 41 million at the time). The Grand Palais and Petit Palais were constructed for this Exhibition, and the metro was created.
83,047 exhibitors including 38,253 French participated in this Fair of 1900. Industrial art of the time was widely represented, particularly the bronze art industry, of which this firescreen is a perfect example.
According to Victor Champier, the gilt bronzes exhibited at the 1900 Fair could be divided into two categories: those that were attached to tradition by their form, especially to the styles of the 17th and 18th centuries, and those that, looking to be innovative and modern, took on a fantastical aspect by their "silhouettes excentriques et lignes extravagantes" ("eccentric shapes and extravagant outlines"). It was also at this World Fair that Art Nouveau was truly discovered, acknowledged, and admired.

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