Rare Bisque Porcelain Mantel Clock from the Duc d’Angoulême’s Porcelain Factory, late Louis XVI period

Jean-Nicolas Schmit

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Jean-Nicolas Schmit (d. circa 1820)
Rare Bisque Porcelain Mantel Clock from the Duc d’Angoulême’s Porcelain Factory
Paris, late Louis XVI period, circa 1785-1790
Height 47.5 cm; width 47 cm; depth 13 cm

The round enamel dial, signed “Schmit à Paris”, indicates the Roman numeral hours, the five-minute graduations, the date and the seconds, with the moon phases appearing in a crescent-shaped aperture against a starry blue sky. The bisque porcelain case imitating white Carrara marble is adorned with finely chased gilt bronze neoclassical ornaments including beading, arabesques and stylised leaf friezes. The drum case housing the movement is placed atop a fluted pilaster flanked by scrolling elements, upon which stand two nude winged children, Allegories of Painting and Poetry, one of whom is holding a painter’s palette and the other a stylus and parchment. The rectangular base with rounded corners is decorated with a frieze painted in shades of gray against a purple background, depicting putti musicians playing amongst the clouds, flanked by two similar scenes. The clock is raised upon four large clawed lion’s feet.

This fine clock is an example of the extraordinary inventiveness of Parisian horologists during the second half of the 18th century. These artists created exceptional works of the highest quality, using the rarest and most precious of materials. The present clock was produced by the Duc d’Angoulême’s porcelain factory, which was established under the Duc’s protection in 1781, and was run by Christophe Dihl and the Guérhards. In the late 18th century and during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, the factory became the principal competitor of the Sèvres Manufacture.

The clock’s unusual design, which relates to the theme of literature and the arts, is harmonious and perfectly balanced. Only three identical models are known; they feature variations in the treatment of the base. One clock, whose dial is signed “Schmit”, was sold at Sotheby’s, London, on May 17, 1968, lot 16; a second piece, with a dial also signed “Schmit”, was pictured in the magazine L’Estampille/L’Objet d’art, n° 290, April 1995, p. 24, fig. 2; a final example, today in a private collection, is illustrated in R. de Plinval de Guillebon, Les biscuits de porcelaine de Paris XVIIIe-XIXe siècles, Editions Faton, Dijon, 2012, p. 213.

Jean-Nicolas Schmit (d. circa 1820)
Is one of the most important Parisian clockmakers of the late 18th century and early 19th centuries. After becoming a master in August 1781, he opened a workshop in the rue Betizy and won immediate renown among connoisseurs. Dihl and Guérhard, the directors of the Duc d’Angoulême’s porcelain factory, were impressed by his movements and purchased the majority of their clock movements from him. Contemporary documents mention the clockmaker’s work as being in the collections of the greatest art enthusiasts of the period. Clocks by him are included in the probate inventory of Jean-Etienne-Marie de Portalis, made a conseiller d’état by Napoléon, and in that of the wife of Louis-Marie-Bretagne-Dominique de Rohan-Chabot, Duc de Rohan and cousin of King Louis XV.

Object Name: Rare Bisque Porcelain Mantel Clock from the Duc d’Angoulême’s Porcelain Factory, late Louis XVI period
Artist name: Jean-Nicolas Schmit
Reference: P106
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