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Style Other / Ref.14290

Léon MESSAGÉ (sculptor) with Maison BARBEDIENNE (founder) for François LINKE (cabinetmaker), Gilt Bronze Inkwell in Rocaille Style, circa 1900

Width: 13'' ¾  35cm
Height: 11''   28cm
Depth: 9'' ⅞  25cm

France, 1900

This rare gilt bronze inkwell was designed by the sculptor Léon Messagé around 1900 to adorn a precious piece of furniture created by the cabinetmaker François Linke.

Léon Messagé (1842-1901), first referenced as a “stone sculptor” in Paris at the age of 20, began collaborating with François Linke around 1885. This prominent Belle Époque cabinetmaker commissioned numerous models from him to adorn his furniture and made him known. Messagé, however, remained an independent artist; he was awarded a gold medal at the 1889 Universal Exhibition, and he worked on all the important furniture for François Linke’s booth at the 1900 Paris Exposition. Messagé adopted the asymmetry and ornamental repertoire of the rocaille style, while making it his own and imprinting it with his distinctive character.

To date, only four authentic examples of this inkwell are known to exist; however, unlike ours, not all bear the signature of the famous foundryman Barbedienne, who probably bought the model of the inkwell from the sculptor or cabinetmaker.

Bronze maker and publisher in Paris, Ferdinand Barbedienne (1810-1892) founded a company in 1839 in collaboration with Achille Collas, inventor of the process for mathematical reduction of sculpture, which led to an unprecedented production. Throughout his life, Barbedienne collaborated with the greatest artists, sculptors, and ornamentalists of his time. In addition to widely editing statues, he produced a large collection of decorative objects, such as this inkwell. Present at all the World’s Fairs of his time, the Maison Barbedienne was regularly distinguished by awards, notably at the 1855 Universal Exhibition, where it received the Grand Medal of Honor. In 1859, the death of Achille Collas made Barbedienne the sole owner of the foundry. Upon his death in 1892, his heir Gustave Leblanc-Barbedienne (1849-1945) took over the foundry, which then became the “Leblanc-Barbedienne” house, specializing in monumental sculptures. It remained active until the mid-20th century.

This inkwell perfectly aligns with the decorative arts of the Louis XV or rocaille style. Full of curves and counter-curves in its structure, it rests on several asymmetrically arranged feet. Aquatic and foliage decorations flourish on the central part of the object, highlighting two swirls that can be lifted to reveal the ink reservoirs. At the top, a helmeted Cupid holds a torch in his right hand and reads a letter.

The object thus fits into one of the historicisms particularly appreciated by 19th-century France. The revival of the rocaille style, developed by certain Parisian ornamentalists in the 1720s, found new life among 19th-century artists, who gave it a very personal interpretation.

Léon Messagé's preparatory drawing for this work was published in his Cahier des Dessins & Croquis, Style Louis XV, in 1890. The only slight difference is the position of the cherub; in the preparatory drawing, he is holding an arrow, which reinforces his identification as Love.

This inkwell thus fits perfectly into its century. Both because of its reference to the art of the second quarter of the 18th century, but also because it involved the intervention of a famous founder, in the era of reproducibility of works of art.