Rare Gilt Bronze Mantel Clock “Harlequin”, Empire period
Case Attributed to Pierre-Philippe Thomire
Rare Gilt Bronze Mantel Clock “Harlequin”
Paris, Empire period, circa 1815-1820
Height 37 cm; width 24 cm; depth 11 cm
The round enamel dial, signed “Hertautd à Paris”, features Roman numerals hours and minute graduations, indicated by means of two steel Breguet hands. The square case, modelled as an arch-top wall clock adorned with cornucopias and a bird, is inspired by certain German clocks. The bezel is adorned with stylised chased friezes of ribbons and foliage, with flowering branches in all four corners. It is held by a comic figure representing a Harlequin dressed in a motley vest and trousers made up of a patchwork of triangles. He is wearing a hat and his face is hidden by a chased and patinated bronze mask. He has a thick moustache and bushy eyebrows, and appears to be pointing at the time with his right hand. The quadrangular base features a low relief scene with a bear and a cat in front of a fireplace. The clock is raised upon four chased flattened bun feet.
This clock model, inspired by the characters of the Commedia dell’arte, became extremely popular during the late Empire period and the early years of the Bourbon Restoration. Only a very few similar clocks are known today; they often feature variations, particularly in the shape and decoration of the base. One such model is illustrated in E. Niehüser, Die französische Bronzeuhr, Eine Typologie der figürlichen Darstellungen, Munich, 1997, p. 168, fig. 270; a second clock, formerly in the collection of Charles-Ludovic de Bourbon, is today displayed in the Palazzo Riccardi in Florence. A third, formerly in the collection of Mrs. Charles Munn, was sold by Christie’s, New York, on November 1, 1989, lot 155; a fourth is in the Quirinal Palace in Rome (pictured in A. Gonzales-Palacios, Il Patrimonio artistico del Quirinale, Gli arredi francesi, Milan, 1996, p. 309, n° 90). Another similar clock, in the collection of Baron François Duesberg, is displayed in the Musée Duesberg in Mons (illustrated in Musée François Duesberg, Arts décoratifs 1775-1825, Bruxelles, 2004, p. 48). That clock is signed on the dial by horologist Louis Moinet, and is also signed by the bronzier Thomire; this allows us to attribute the present clock to that exceptional Parisian artisan.
Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1757-1853) was the most important Parisian bronzier of the last quarter of the 18th century and the first decades of the following century. Early on in his career he worked for Pierre Gouthière, ciseleur-fondeur du roi, and toward the mid-1770’s began working with Louis Prieur. He later became one of the bronziers attached to the Manufacture Royale de Sèvres, creating the bronze mounts for most of the important creations of the day. After the Revolution, he purchased the stock of Martin-Eloi Lignereux, thus becoming the most important suppliers of furniture bronzes for châteaux and Imperial Palaces. In addition, he worked for a wealthy private clientele, both French and foreign, including several of Napoleon’s Marshals. Thomire retired in 1823.