Important Ebony Veneered and Gilt and Patinated Bronze Mantel Clock, Neoclassical period, late Louis XV period Model known as “Allegory of Study” or the “Geoffrin” Clock

Ferdinand Berthoud

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Ferdinand Berthoud
The figure after a model by sculptor Laurent Guiard (1723-1783)
The bronzes by bronze caster Edme Roy (active circa 1745-1785)
The base made by the cabinetmaker DELORME
Important Ebony Veneered and Gilt and Patinated Bronze Mantel Clock Model known as “Allegory of Study” or the “Geoffrin” Clock
Paris, Neoclassical period, late Louis XV period, circa 1765
Height 53 cm; width 72 cm; depth 27.5 cm
The base stamped: DELORME

C. Baulez, “La pendule à la Geoffrin, un modèle à success”, in L’Estampille/L’Objet d’art, April 1989, pp. 34-39

The round enamel dial, signed “Ferdinand Berthoud”, indicates the Roman numeral hours and five-minute intervals by means of two pierced gilt bronze hands. The neoclassical case features ebony veneering and very finely chased and gilded bronze elements. The movement, whose plate is also signed “Ferdinand Berthoud”, is housed in a “borne” case with a curvilinear pediment, whose summit is embellished with two ribbon-tied oak branches bearing leaves and acorns and whose straight sides are adorned with shallow fluting above and acanthus-leaf consoles issuing seeded stems below. A magnificent female figure with upswept hair and shod in Grecian sandals, is seated on a low stool and leans against the case; she is wearing a long tunic adorned with chased laurel leaf and seed-patterned trimming against a matte ground. She gazes attentively at a heavy book that lies open on her knees. The raised oblong plinth features molding adorned with a wave frieze on a matted ground; it in turn is supported by a quadrangular ebony-veneered base featuring reserves that are embellished with interlace friezes decorated with rosettes and cabochons centered by quatrefoils and framed by matte molding.

Ever since the first example was created in the mid-18th century, the design of this exceptional neoclassical clock has been considered to be one of the finest and most successful and perfect of contemporary Parisian horology. The first time a similar clock was mentioned – then called “à l’emploi du temps” –was in the notebooks of Marie-Thérèse Geoffrin (1699-1777). For several decades, Madame Geoffrin hosted the most famous Parisian salon in her mansion in the rue Saint-Honoré. She was on good terms with influential figures such as Empress Catherine II of Russia, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria and Stanislaw August Poniatowski, King of Poland. In the 4th folio of the notebook entitled “prices of various things I want to remember”, Madame Geoffrin wrote: “My clock by Guiard. It cost me 3000 L because the model was created for me. It is the original”. The mention of “Guiard” is particularly interesting here, for it gives us the name of the sculptor who made the original model (see the exhibition catalogue Madame Geoffrin, une femme d’affaires et d’esprit, Maison de Chateaubriand, 2011, p. 57). In 1754 Madame Geoffrin had indeed ordered a clock of a completely new design from Laurent Guiard; it bore the signature of clockmaker Pierre Musson. Upon her death she bequeathed the clock to Simon-Charles Boutin, the powerful Receiver General who was the executor of her will. Around 1768, she ordered another identical clock, which she gave to philosopher Denis Diderot (1713-1784) as a sign of gratitude for services rendered. Diderot kept the clock in his study until his death; it is now in the Langres Musée d’Art et d’Histoire (illustrated in the exhibition catalogue Chanteloup, Un moment de grâce autour du duc de Choiseul, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tours, 2007, p. 314).

Thus, toward the mid-1750’s, when the French decorative arts were still dominated by the faltering rocaille style, a new horological model was created that delighted the great Parisian collectors, and which would be encourage the renewal of forms and motifs that led to the neoclassical style of the latter part of the reign of Louis XV. The “Geoffrin” clock remained popular for nearly three decades, encountering unequaled enthusiasm on the part of important French and European collectors. As Christian Baulez has shown, it was created by several talented artists and artisans working together: the sculptor Laurent Guiard - a student of Bouchardon - for the female figure, bronze caster Edme Roy (who had been made juré of the bronze casters’ guild in 1758) for the bronzes, and several clockmakers, including Julien Leroy and Ferdinand Berthoud. The most luxurious of these clocks featured ebony bases adorned with gilt bronze friezes; these were created by the Parisian cabinetmakers Joseph Baumhauer and Balthazar Lieutaud.

Numerous 18th century documents mention the model as having belonged to influential collectors of the time, including examples described in important auctions of the second half of the 18th century: “A fine clock made by Julien Leroy, adorned with an antique-patinated bronze figure, representing Study; the clock is made of gilt bronze, the base of elaborately decorated ebony. Height 17 pouces, width 26”, which was offered in the sale of the collection of the Duke de Rohan-Chabot in 1787; as well as “a clock, by Martin, adorned with a lovely seated female figure, representing Study, on a gilt bronze base: height 11 pouces, not including a blackened wood base”, which sold for 539 livres in the 1776 sale of the collection of Augustin Blondel de Gagny, director of the Menus Plaisirs du Roi. Two models were also described during the Revolutionary period as being in the Royal French Collections, including an example by Julien Leroy representing: “An ormolu gilt bronze clock on a rosewood veneered base, with ormolu gilt bronze ornaments, this piece represents Study, in the form of a woman seated at the base of the clock, holding a book”. Two clocks of the same model, by Ferdinand Berthoud, were mentioned in the late 18th or early 19th century in the homes of two important collectors, including a model that appeared around 1795 in the grand salon of the Parisian home of the widow of the powerful Farmer-General Philippe-Charles Legendre de Villemorien: “a mantel clock with enamel dial, marking the hours and minutes, by Ferdinand Berthoud, in its case and on an ormolu gilt copper base, placed on a white marble plinth, adorned with a bronze figure representing Study, 1000 livres”.

Today only a few examples of “Geoffrin” clocks are known. Among them, one example stands on a bureau-cartonnier by Nils Dahlin in the Royal Swedish Collections (illustrated in the exhibition catalogue Le Soleil et l’Etoile du Nord, La France et la Suède au XVIIIe siècle, 1994, p. 142, fig. 205). A second example is in the Pavlovsk Palace in Saint Petersburg (see A. Kuchumov, Pavlovsk, Palace & Park, Leningrad, 1975, plate 159). A third, featuring several variations, is in the Royal Spanish collection (illustrated in J. Ramon Colon de Carvajal, Catalogo de Relojes del Patrimonio nacional, Madrid, 1987, p. 66, catalogue n° 49). There are two further similar examples whose design is nearly identical to that of the present clock: the first, whose dial is signed “Julien Leroy”, rests on an ebony base with wave friezes; formerly part of the Rothschild collection, it is in Waddesdon Manor (illustrated in H. Ottomeyer and P. Pröschel, Vergoldete Bronzen, Die Bronzearbeiten des Spätbarock und Klassizismus, Band I, Munich, 1986, p. 160, fig. 3.3.1). The second, whose dial is signed “Ferdinand Berthoud”, stands on an ebony base with a Vitruvian scroll frieze that bears the stamp of Parisian cabinetmaker Joseph Baumhauer; it is in the Wallace Collection in London (illustrated in P. Hugues, The Wallace Collection, Catalogue of Furniture, I, London, 1996, p. 440, catalogue n° 99).

Ferdinand Berthoud (1727-1807) is one of the most important Parisian horologists of the latter part of the 18th century and the early part of the 19th century. Trained in his brother’s workshop, he set up in business as an “ouvrier libre” in 1745; his “lettres de maîtrise” were registered in December 1753. Named “horloger-mécanicien du roy et de la marine”, as of 1764 he worked exclusively on marine chronometers, constructing watches and clocks for use on royal vessels. The author of numerous works on horology, he was held in great esteem by the French royalty, including Louis XVI, who purchased his tools and clocks for 30,000 livres. Like most of the best clockmakers of the time, he always collaborated with the finest artisans, including the bronziers and chasers Caffieri, Martincourt, Osmond, Saint-Germain and Gouthière. Today his work may be found in important public and private collections throughout the world, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louvre Museum in Paris and the Pavlovsk Palace in Saint Petersburg.

Object Name: Important Ebony Veneered and Gilt and Patinated Bronze Mantel Clock, Neoclassical period, late Louis XV period Model known as “Allegory of Study” or the “Geoffrin” Clock
Artist name: Ferdinand Berthoud
Reference: P159
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