Rare and Exceptional Sèvres Porcelain and Gilt Bronze Clock in the form of a Vase, Transition period Louis XV-Louis XVI

Nicolas-Charles Dutertre

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Nicolas-Charles Dutertre
Rare and Exceptional Sèvres Porcelain and Gilt Bronze Clock in the form of a Vase
Paris, Transition period Louis XV-Louis XVI, circa 1770
Height 54 cm; width 21.5 cm; depth 20.5 cm


- Probably Sir Anthony de Rothschild (1810-1876); collection of M. Yorke, Christie’s, London, May 5, 1927, lot 82; sold Paris, Me Ader, Galerie Charpentier, May 24, 1935, lot 96 (not illustrated).


The two “cercles tournants” dials are made of copper bands with white enamel cartouches that indicate the Roman numeral hours and the Arabic numeral five-minute intervals. They are set in a very fine tapering vase made of Sèvres porcelain that is deep blue in color with elaborate gilt bronze mounts, including acanthus leaves at the foot, a leaf-decorated pedestal, a snake with finely chased scales that indicates the time with its head, handles from which are suspended flower and leaf garlands, and a lid that is adorned with acanthus leaves, fluting, and a seed finial. The vase rests upon a molded plinth whose pedestal is decorated with acanthus leaves and is set on a high quadrangular base containing the movement, which is signed “CHles. Dutertre AParis”. Its cornice is embellished with a cabochon frieze and its molded base is adorned with a frieze of laurel leaves and seeds.  The base is decorated with flower and leaf garlands that are suspended from roundels. The back panel is glazed, the sides and front are adorned with Sèvres porcelain plaques featuring molded frames with palmette spandrels (one marked in blue with a double L). The plaques are decorated with polychrome reserves within blue frames decorated with bead and olive friezes, and featuring scientific books, telescopes, an armillary sphere, and a compass on the sides, and a putto sitting on a cloud with a telescope on the front. The plain quadrangular base sits upon a double oblong plinth that is embellished with a laurel torus.


This type of vase-shaped clock whose base is decorated with porcelain plaques was created in Paris toward the mid-1760s; it immediately became popular among important Parisian collectors of luxury horology. The genre was very likely invented by one of the important Parisian marchands-merciers of the time, probably Simon-Philippe Poirier (1720-1785). On November 18, 1768, Poirier delivered a clock to Madame du Barry, the favorite of King Louis XV and an avid collector. This was “a vase clock with snake of ormolu gilt bronze, with cercles tournant dial, the pedestal garnished with three plaques of French porcelain with blue background with miniatures of children, the serpent’s tongue made of marcasite” (see exhibition catalogue Madame du Barry, De Versailles à Louveciennes, Musée-promenade de Marly-le-Roi-Louveciennes, 1992). That model differed from the present clock in that the vase housing the movement was made entirely of gilt bronze; nevertheless it could be the description of several similar clocks, including an example that is illustrated in G. and A. Wannenes, Les plus belles pendules françaises, De Louis XIV à l’Empire, Florence, 2013, p. 172. A second example, whose case is attributed to bronze caster Jean-Baptiste Gaulier, was formerly in the collection of Djahanguir Riahi (see J-D. Augarde, Les Ouvriers du Temps, La pendule à Paris de Louis XIV à Napoléon Ier, Genève, 1996, p. 199, fig. 160). One such clock was offered in the posthumous sale of the collection of Duke Charles of Lorraine and Bar, formerly the Governor General of the Habsburg Netherlands: “N°14. A clock made by Charles Dutertre, in Paris, eight-day going movement, striking; the case in the form of a vase on a square base, three sides of which are adorned with Sèvres porcelain, painted with figures and trophies; fine gilding, the cercles tournants dials revolving horizontally around the vase as in the preceding clock.”


During the same period, another type de of vase clock was created. It comprised a porcelain vase that differed from the present model in that it had no snake to indicate the time. Several models are known with a blue porcelain vase (of the color known as “gros bleu”), whose bases are decorated with plaques depicting child astronomers and trophies. One such clock, with a movement by Charles Dutertre and plaques dated 1768, was formerly in the Abbey of Wasmes (see L’Estampille/L’Objet d’Art, n°286, December 1994, p. 137). A second example, also signed Dutertre, formerly in the collections of Lionel and Alfred de Rothschild, is in the Detroit Institute of Art (Inv. N° 54.475). A third clock was donated to the Jerusalem Art Museum by Batsheva de Rothschild (Inv. B75.0121). A fourth example, with a movement by Louis Montjoye, is illustrated in P. Kjellberg, Encyclopédie de la pendule française du Moyen Age au XXe siècle, Paris, 1997, p. 286, fig. B. One further similar clock is pictured in S. de Ricci, Le style Louis XVI, Mobilier et décoration, Librairie Hachette et Cie, Paris, 1913, plate 255. The second model appears to correspond to a clock that was mentioned when the property of the banker Joseph de Laborde was returned to his heirs after the Revolution: “A clock in Sèvres porcelain, gros bleu with rotating dial, placed on a bronze base, decorated with three small plaques, also made of Sèvres porcelain, with gilt bronze ormolu ornaments, height 18 pouces, the base 6 pouces wide. Nota: the three small plaques are medallions that make up the panels of the base.”


The third type of clock, larger than the other two and from the same period, is the same model as the present clock. It is almost certainly the one that was formerly in the collection of Sir Anthony de Rothschild, which was sold at auction in Paris on May 24, 1935; at the time it was the property of Monsieur C… d’A… : “A clock in Sèvres porcelain and bronze from the time of Louis XVI. The movement, by Charles Dutertre, with rotating dial, is housed in a porcelain vase with a “gros bleu” ground. A coiled bronze snake indicates the hours. Quadrangular base adorned with porcelain plaques depicting Cupids and trophies. Height 55cm.” It should be noted that the model is extremely rare; to the best of our knowledge only one other identical clock is known. In the late 19th century it belonged to the collector and dealer Charles Stein and was sold at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris, June 8 – 10, 1899, lot 265 (illustrated in E. Niehüser, Die französische Bronzeuhr, Eine Typologie der figürlichen Darstellungen, Munich, 1997, p. 263, fig. 1285). After the sale it was placed on small lion’s head feet. It appears to have been offered at auction again during an anonymous sale in Paris (Me Rheims, Galerie Charpentier, December 7-8, 1954, lot 118).


Nicolas-Charles Dutertre (1715-1793)
Was one of the most important Parisian clockmakers of the 18th century. The son and brother of clockmakers, he was trained in his father’s workshop on the Quai des Orfèvres, became a master on July 7, 1739 and opened a workshop in the rue Dauphine. He quickly became famous among important Parisian collectors of luxury horology, and acquired a wealthy clientele that included the powerful Dukes of Luxembourg and Penthièvre.

Object Name: Rare and Exceptional Sèvres Porcelain and Gilt Bronze Clock in the form of a Vase, Transition period Louis XV-Louis XVI
Artist name: Nicolas-Charles Dutertre
Reference: P180
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