Rare Gilt Bronze and White Carrara Marble Lyre Mantel Clock with Skeleton Movement, Louis XVI period
Joseph-Charles-Paul Bertrand, known as “Charles Bertrand” (1746-1789)
Rare Gilt Bronze and White Carrara Marble Lyre Mantel Clock with Skeleton Movement
Paris, Louis XVI period, circa 1785
Height 60 cm; width 26.5 cm; depth 13 cm
- Y. and M. Gay, “Les pendules lyre”, dans Bulletin de l’Association nationale des Collectionneurs et Amateurs d’Horlogerie ancienne, autumn-winter 1993, n° 68.
The annular white enamel dial, signed “Charles Bertrand H. de l’Acade Rle des Sciences”, is fixed to the oscillating bimetallic pendulum. Revealing the movement, it indicates the Roman numeral hours, the Arabic numeral five-minute intervals and date, by means of four hands, two of which are in the form of a lyre and are made of pierced and gilt brass; it indicates the seconds by means of a central hand. It is surrounded by a finely chased gilt bronze frame in the shape of a lyre, whose lower portion is decorated with an acanthus leaf motif. The sides of the frame are adorned with bead friezes alternating with pastilles and terminate in leafy scrolls from which are suspended grape leaf swags that are centered by a mask. The clock is surmounted by two dolphins with interlacing tails. The oval white marble base is decorated with tassels that are attached by chains, lateral rosettes, a stiff-leaf frieze and friezes of interlacing grape leaves, centered by antique style urns.
According to Svend Eriksen, the model of the first true lyre clock is in the Royal Swedish Collections (see Early Neoclassicism in France, London, 1974). In France, the design of the lyre clock changed little since its creation, which was probably toward the end of the 1750’s or the beginning of the following decade. But while the design of lyre clocks changed little, the materials used, and the intricacy and complexity of the mechanisms, evolved significantly, reflecting the changing tastes of collectors and demonstrating the exceptional skill of contemporary clockmakers. The present model was inspired by an anonymous drawing that is today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (see M.L. Myers, French Architectural and Ornamental Drawings of the Eighteenth Century, New York, 1992, p. 204, n° 121). It was produced, with several variations, during the latter portion of the 18th century. The examples featuring two dolphins with intertwining tails - no doubt a reference to the monarchy - are among the rarest and most elegant models. Among the similar clocks known today, one example, whose dial is signed “Louis-Simon Bourdier”, is today in the Musée François Duesberg in Mons (illustrated in Musée François Duesberg, Arts décoratifs 1775-1825, Bruxelles, 2004, p. 24). A second clock was formerly in the collection of Jean-Baptiste Diette (illustrated in Tardy, La pendule française, 2ème partie : Du Louis XVI à nos jours, Paris, 1975, p. 280, fig. 3). A third example is in the Royal British Collections (illustrated in C. Jagger, Royal Clocks, The British Monarchy & its Timekeepers 1300-1900, 1983, p. 132, fig. 179). One further clock of this type, whose dial is also signed “Charles Bertrand de l’Académie royale de Sciences”, and which features an unusual Sèvres porcelain base, is on display at the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Bordeaux (see Y. and M. Gay, “Les pendules lyre”, dans Bulletin de l’Association nationale des Collectionneurs et Amateurs d’Horlogerie ancienne, autumn-winter 1993, n° 68, p. 36, fig. 69).
Joseph-Charles-Paul Bertrand, known as Charles Bertrand (Nettancourt 1746-Paris 1789)
One of the most important Parisian horologists of the reign of Louis XVI, he served his apprenticeship under Eustache-François Houblin, became a master on February 20, 1772, and opened a workshop in the rue Montmartre. Within a short time he became known for the excellence of his movements and was named Clockmaker to the Royal Academy of Sciences. Specialising in skeleton clocks and clocks with complications, he called on the best artisans of the period, among them Knab for the cases, Barbichon, Coteau and Borel for the dials, and Jean-Joseph de Saint-Germain and François Vion for the bronzes. His wealthy clientele, composed mainly of financiers and influential aristocrats, included the Marquise de Lambertye and Harenc de Presle. For the latter he made a very fine vase-shaped clock that was sold in April 1795. It was described as follows: “A finely-shaped and elaborate vase, with handles formed of double scrolls and a lid decorated with rose garlands, surmounted by a pinecone, on the mid-portion of the vase and the band, there is roundel surrounded by imitation gems, with an enamel dial signed Charles Bertrand. The lower portion of the vase is fluted with a pedestal, resting on a truncated fluted column, the base with laurel toruses. Height 14 pouces, diameter 8”. Today, several clocks by Bertrand are in important international museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Musée national des Techniques in Paris and the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore.