La Pendulerie

Rare Chased, Patinated, and Gilt Bronze Mantel Clock "Young Black Man Pushing a Wheelbarrow”


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Plantier à Paris
Rare Chased, Patinated, and Gilt Bronze Mantel Clock "Young Black Man Pushing a Wheelbarrow”
Paris, circa 1795-1800
Height 33.2 cm; width 40 cm; depth 10.8 cm

Provenance: Bibliography:
Dominique and Chantal Fléchon, “La pendule au nègre” in Bulletin de l’association nationale des collectionneurs et amateurs d’horlogerie ancienne, Spring 1992, n° 63, p. 44

The round enamel dial, signed “Plantier à Paris”, indicates the hours in Roman numerals and the minutes graduations by means of two gilt brass hands. It is housed in a finely chased, patinated and gilt bronze case, whose bezel is decorated with a twisted bead motif; the case is modelled as a bale of cotton on a wheelbarrow being pushed by a very finely modelled figure depicting a young black man in patinated and gilt bronze. He has enamel eyes and is wearing a hat and a pair of trousers; on his back he carries a woven basket that holds his shirt. On the other side, a parrot with finely chased feathers is proudly perched on the front of the wheelbarrow and turns its head toward the spectator. The whole rests upon an quadrangular architectural base with canted corners that is richly adorned with low relief motifs including anchors, tridents and cords, and a central trophy featuring olive leaves, palms, a caduceus, a stylised palmette and cornucopiae. The base rests upon six finely chased feet.

In the late 18th century, inspired by the philosophical writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who extolled the benefits of a return to Nature through the myth of the “noble savage”, exoticism was made fashionable by contemporary literature. The great literary successes of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s “Paul et Virginie” in 1788, coming after the well-known “Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel de Foe, Marmontel’s novel “Les Incas”, which appeared during the American War of Independence, and Chateaubriand’s “Atala”, published in 1801, would profoundly change Europeans’ attitudes toward other civilisation. They encouraged a kind of romantic nostalgia, linked to the quest for a pagan Eden that would be regenerated by Christianity. As often occurred in the French decorative arts, this profound change would manifest itself in certain artistic creations, often in clocks or lamps.

The present clock was created within this historical context. The model known as “The Young Black Man Pushing a Wheelbarrow” became very popular among important horological connoisseurs of the early 19th century. Today only a few similar models are known; one example is illustrated in P. Kjellberg, Encyclopédie de la pendule française, Paris, 1997, p. 344; a second example is in the François Duesberg Museum (depicted in Musée François Duesberg, Arts décoratifs 1775-1825, Brussels, 2004, p. 67).

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