Exceptional Regulator clock with Remontoir "Royal model", Louis XVI period

Robert Robin

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Robert Robin (1741-1799),
Became Master Horologist in November 1767
Joseph Coteau (1740-1801),
Became Master Enameller of the Académie de Saint Luc in 1766
Case attributed to Pierre-Philippe Thomire
Exceptional Regulator clock with Remontoir "Royal model"
Paris, early Louis XVI period, circa 1775
Height 41 cm; width 22.5 cm; depth 17.5 cm

This desk or mantel regulator with remontoire and constant force escapement is one of the most extraordinary horological creations made in Paris during the second half of the 18th century. Its Neoclassical architectural case is made of finely chased gilt bronze; it is glazed on all four sides, allowing the pendulum and movement to be viewed. The case features ornamental motifs, including a floral frieze on the moulded cornice, beaded ormolu mounts on the entablature and the bezel, acanthus leaves framing the dial, friezes of stylised foliage, a foliate frieze highlighting the base and a magnificent chased drapery under the dial. The dial, signed Robin à Paris, is a veritable work of art, executed by Joseph Coteau, the most famous enameller of the time. It has Roman numeral hours and Arabic numerals for the minutes, seconds, date, months, and equation of time. The signs of the Zodiac are represented in grisaille within gilt-framed cartouches linked by delicately painted polychrome flower garlands.

This clock may be considered an example of the quintessence of Parisian luxury horology during the reign of Louis XVI, when it was appreciated by a handful of elegant connoisseurs who were often close to the royal family. Historical documents occasionally allow us to better understand who these discerning collectors were. One clock, similar to the present example, was briefly described in the probate inventory of Denis-Pierre-Jean Papillon de la Ferté, director of the Menus Plaisirs du Roi. It later appeared in the sale of his collection in February 1797, as follows: “305. A square clock, with glazed panels, beating the half-seconds, with equation, remontoire, and striking, made by Robin”. A second clock had been described several years previously (shortly after the Revolution) in an inventory of horological pieces belonging to Queen Marie-Antoinette that had been looked after and maintained by Robin. In that inventory there was mention of a model that is virtually identical to the present clock: “28. A square clock with architectural case, glazed panels, in gilt and matted copper, with a compensation pendulum, movement indicating the hours, minutes, seconds, with striking, date, day of the week, the signs of the Zodiac painted in miniature on the dial, signed by Robin” (see P. Verlet, Les bronzes dorés français du XVIIIe siècle, Paris, 1999, p. 466).

Only a few similar examples are known today. Most bear the signatures of the clockmaker Robin and the enameller Coteau. The two men probably worked on the clock at the request of one of the influential marchand-merciers of the time such as Simon-Philippe Poirier or his associate Dominique Daguerre, then the most important suppliers of Parisian luxury goods. Among the known Robin clocks, one example, now in a private collection, is illustrated in D. Roberts, Precision Pendulum Clocks, 2004, p. 32. Two other regulators, whose cases are attributed to the renowned bronzier Pierre-Philippe Thomire, and which were formerly in the Winthrop Kellogg Edey collection, are now in the Frick Collection in New York (Inv. 1999.5.150 and 1999.5.151). They are illustrated, respectively, in Tardy, La pendule française, 2ème Partie: Du Louis XVI à nos jours, Paris, 1975, and C. Vignon, The Frick Collection Decorative Arts Handbook, New York, Scala, 2015. It is worth noting that outside of the Frick Collection, La Pendulerie is the only international gallery to offer two such mantel regulators by Robin.
Robert Robin (1741-1799) is one of the most important Parisian clockmakers of the late 18th century. Having received the titles of Valet de Chambre-Horloger Ordinaire du Roi et de la Reine in 1783 and 1786, he had an extraordinary career, distinguished himself by his exceptional contribution to the progress of time measurement during his lifetime.
In 1778 the French Académie des Sciences approved two of his inventions, one of which led to the construction of an astronomic clock representing a meridian drawn on a pyramid, which was acquired that year by the Menus Plaisirs on behalf of Louis XVI. Robin published a “Description historique et mécanique” of the clock. He constructed astronomic mantel regulators with compensation balance, which the Marquis de Courtanvaux, one of the period’s most important connoisseurs of precision horology, was among the first to acquire. During the Terreur he made decimal watches and clocks. He is recorded successively at the Grande rue du faubourg Saint-Honoré (1772), rue des Fossés-Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois (1775), rue Saint-Honoré à l'Hôtel d'Aligre (1778) and in the Galeries du Louvre in 1786.

Robin housed his mantel regulators in sober, elegant cases that were remarkably modern in style. He worked with excellent artisans such as Robert and Jean Baptiste Osmond, Pierre Philippe Thomire, E. Roy, J.L. Beaucour, P. Delacroix, François Rémond, Claude Galle, Balthazar Lieutaud, E. Levasseur, J.H. Riesener, Jean-Ferdinand Schwerdfeger and Adam Weisweiler for his cases; Barbezat, Edmé-Portail Barbichon, Dubuisson, Cave, Merlet and Coteau for his dials, and the Richards and the Montginots for his springs.
Robin’s sons, Nicolas Robert (1775-1812) and Jean-Joseph (1781-1856), were both fine clockmakers who continued their father’s business.

Object Name: Exceptional Regulator clock with Remontoir "Royal model", Louis XVI period
Artist name: Robert Robin
Reference: R002
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