A very fine Gilt Bronze Mantel Clock, Louis XVI period
Jean-Gabriel Imbert, known as Imbert l’Aîné (1735-95)
Case attributed to François Vion
A very fine Gilt Bronze Mantel Clock
Paris, Louis XVI period, circa 1775
Height 31 cm; width 24,5 cm; depth 11 cm
A very fine gilt bronze clock of eight day duration, signed on the white enamel dial Imbert l’Aîné à Paris”, the magnificent case attributed to François Vion, the dial with Roman Arabic numerals for the hours and Arabic numerals for the minutes, and a very fine pair of pierced gilt brass hands.
The movement, with anchor escapement, strikes the hours and half hours with outside count wheel. The magnificent gilt bronze case attributed to François Vion features a beautiful maiden in classical dress, leaning toward Cupid as he offers her a dove in his outstretched hands. The dial plinth is mounted with foliate spandrels.
Vion’s pen and ink design for this clock, as well as a similar clock whose dial is signed “Chles Le Roy à Paris”, are illustrated in Hans Ottomeyer and Peter Pröschel, “Vergoldete Bronzen”, 1986, p. 247, pls. 4.6.9-10, respectively. An identical clock in gilt bronze and marble, with movement by Jean-Baptiste Lepaute, is illustrated in Jean-Dominique Augarde, “Les Ouvriers du Temps”, 1996, p 242, pl. 191. An identical clock in gilt bronze and marble with movement by Roque is shown in Pierre Kjellberg, “Encyclopédie de la Pendule Française du Moyen Age au XXe Siècle”, 1997, p. 246, pl. A.
The model for this superb case may be confidently attributed to the celebrated bronzier François Vion (b. circa 1737, d. after 1790), who became a maître in 1764. His design, known as “Love Offering a Bird to Friendship”, “The Weeping Woman”, or “The Return of Love”, was part of a watercolour album preserved in Paris’s Bibliothèque Doucet; it also appears in the Livre de desseins no. 31, inscribed with Vion’s name and priced at 450 livres.
Queen Marie Antoinette owned an identical clock with movement by royal clockmaker Robert Robin; it was displayed in the Trianon at Versailles. Another clock was listed in 1777 as belonging to the comte d’Artois (later Charles X) in his apartments in the Temple. Other similar clocks may be seen in the Château de Versailles and in the Bayreuth Castle.
The clock is in the fashionable antique style promoted by the leading Parisian marchand-merciers in the 1760’s. Its subject, which refers to Roman poet Catullus’ ode on the death of a sparrow, celebrates the triumph of Lyric Poetry. Here Love is personified by Cupid as he attends a mourning nymph, who indicates time’s passing on the clock dial.
Jean-Gabriel Imbert, known as Imbert l’Aîné (1735-95) was born in Devalon in the Burgundy region of France; in his youth he travelled to Paris, where he worked for his brother-in-law, Jean-Charles Olin (husband of Imbert’s sister Anne). He worked firstly as an ouvrier-libre (a worker not affiliated with a guild) then became a master clockmaker in 1776 and a deputé of his guild in 1780. Four years later he declared bankruptcy but continued to work. For many years his younger brother Jean Edme, known as Imbert le Jeune (1741-1808), worked with him. By 1767 Imbert l’Aîné was established at Carrefour de la Roquette, by 1781 at rue Planche-Mibray, three years later at rue des Arcis and at the time of his death in June 1795 at rue de Monceau.
Imbert l’Aîné worked with excellent suppliers: Richard and Gaspard Monginot supplied his springs; his enamel dials were generally made by Georges-Adrien Merlet, Elie Barbezat or Bezelle. Imbert’s clock cases were made by a range of Parisian fondeurs in particular Robert and Jean-Baptiste Osmond, Nicolas Bonnet, Michel Poisson, Jean Goyer, René-François Morlay Léonard Mary and of course François Vion, while some were gilded by Le Cat and H. Martin. Examples from his work may be found in the Musée Carnavalet in Paris, the Residenzmuseum in Munich, the Palazzo Reale in Turin, and several museums in Spain. Imbert l’Aîné counted among his clients the marquis de Brunoy and the duc de Deux-Ponts.
François Vion (vers 1737 – après 1790)
L’un des meilleurs bronziers de son époque, il est reçu maître en 1764. Sa grande spécialité semble avoir été les boîtes de pendule. Plusieurs de ces boîtes représentent des animaux porteurs du cadran, comme le lion de la pendule présente. Il exécute également des figures classiques, tels les trois Grâces (mouvement de Lepaute à Paris, faire pour la comtesse du Barry au château de Fontainebleau (Musée du Louvre, Paris). Le musée municipal de Besançon possède une pendule dans une boîte de Vion, surmontée de Vénus accompagnée par des putti, faite après un modèle de E-M Falconet ; la Wrightsman Collection du Metropolitan Museum de New York possède une figurine en porcelaine de Falconet, représentant Cupidon, qui repose sur une base de Vion en bronze doré.
François Vion (circa 1737 – after 1790) was one of the leading bronziers of his day who became a maître in 1764. He appears to have specialised in clock cases. As here, a number of these were supported by animals and in particular by a lion, as in the present clock. A number of his cases featured classical figures such as one representing the Three Graces housing a movement by Lepaute à Paris that was made for the Countess du Barry at the Château de Fontainebleau. (Musée du Louvre, Paris). The Musée Municipal, Besançon also owns a clock housed in a case by Vion surmounted by Venus and putti after a design by E-M Falconet, while the Wrightsman Collection in the Metropolitan Museum, New York owns a biscuit porcelain figure of Cupid by Falconet set on a gilt bronze base by Vion.