Exceptional Gilt Bronze, Enamel and White Marble Skeleton Mantel Clock with Duodecimal and Decimal Time Indications, Convention period
Call +33 1 45 61 44 55
Enamels by Joseph Coteau (1740-1801)
Exceptional Gilt Bronze, Enamel and White Marble Skeleton Mantel Clock with Duodecimal and Decimal Time Indications
Paris, Convention period, circa 1794
Height 41.3 cm; width 26.3 cm; depth 13.2 cm
- Formerly Jean-Baptiste Diette collection, Paris
- Tardy, La pendule française dans le Monde, Paris, 1994, p. 240 (illustration).
The main white enamel ring dial indicates the Arabic duodecimal hours and fifteen-minute intervals by means of two chased and gilt pierced hands. It also indicates the days of the “décade”, the revolutionary date, along the outermost edge, and the seconds, by means of two blued steel hands. The lower ring dial, which is also made of white enamel, is surmounted by a shaped enamel plaque imitating a curtain. It indicates decimal time, divided into ten hours and one hundred minutes, as well as the months of the Gregorian and Republican calendars. A third, uppermost dial indicates the moon phases - painted in shades of gray - and the age of the moon, on seven enameled cartouches. All three dials are elegantly decorated with gold paillons, flowers, and delicate polychrome flower and leaf garlands. They are fitted within an arched framework that is finely decorated with gold stars and silver beads, flowerets, scrolls, rosettes, and fountains, all against a lapis lazuli colored ground. The edges of the two main dials and the arch are adorned with gilt bronze bead friezes, and the clock itself is surmounted by a gilt bronze bow. The weight-driven movement, with remontoir d’égalité, pin-pallet escapement, with a vertical balance spring beating the half seconds; the clock strikes the hours and half hours on a bell in passing. The quadrangular white Carrara marble base is adorned with a bead frieze; on three sides it features polychrome painted reserves decorated with branches tied with blue ribbons and scroll friezes centered by a cartouche with a quiver flanked by stylized stems with buds, scrolls, and blossoms. The clock is supported on four finely engine-turned feet.
During the 18th century the European decorative arts had reached their apogee, as artisans displayed boundless imagination and inventiveness. At the time, the decorative vocabulary was undergoing an unprecedented stylistic revolution, as shapes and motifs were continually renewed, and new and innovative models were introduced. In the field of horological creation, particularly during the second part of the century, artisans demonstrated exceptional creativity; inventing new clock models with ever more perfect designs, which often housed elaborate movements produced by the finest Parisian master horologists of the day. The “skeleton clock”, created within this particular context, revealed the complexity of the mechanisms and enhanced the elegance and sobriety of the design, which often consisted solely of an armature supporting the dial or dials. The most luxurious of these clocks were adorned with elegant enamel plaques painted by the most talented contemporary Parisian enamellers of the time, including Merlet, Dubuisson, and the renowned Coteau.
The present clock is decorated with very finely painted enamel plaques; the counter enamel on the reverse of the main dial bears the signature of Joseph Coteau. Today several similar clocks are known, however without decimal time or a Republican calendar. Among them, one example bequeathed in 1923 by Javelot Paul Marie Benoit to the Lyon Musée des Arts décoratifs, is illustrated in P. Arizzoli-Clémentel and C. Cardinal, Ô Temps ! Suspends ton vol, Catalogue des pendules et horloges du Musée des Arts décoratifs de Lyon, Lyon, 2008 ? p. 86, n° 37. A second clock is in the Paris Musée des Arts décoratifs (see Tardy, La pendule française dans le Monde, Paris, 1994, p. 206). A third example is in the Spanish Royal Collections (illustrated in J. Ramon Colon de Carvajal, Catalogo de Relojes del Patrimonio nacional, Madrid, 1987, p. 95, catalogue n° 78). One further similar model is in the Pavlovsk Palace near Saint Petersburg (see E. Duchamp, Pavlovsk, Les collections, Le palace et le parc, Paris, 1993).
Following the production of excellent quality clocks during the years 1785-1792, a small number of Parisian clockmakers sought to produce clocks that indicated the new timekeeping system. By a decree of 4 frimaire an II (24 November, 1793), the Convention Nationale ordered that the Gregorian calendar be replaced by a new one, known as the “Revolutionary” or “Republican” calendar. According to the new calendar, which was based on the decimal system, the day was divided into ten hours, each one hundred minutes long. The seven-day week was replaced by a ten-day “decade”, with each month comprising three decades. At the end of the year there were several “complementary” days during which the overthrow of the monarchy was celebrated; they were called the “Sanculotides”. This new and audacious timekeeping system encountered resistance due to the difficulty in changing people’s long-held habits, and the technical complexities linked to the conversion of the former system. Thus, on 18 germinal an III, slightly more than a year after the initial decree, Revolutionary time was indefinitely suspended by the Convention. It should be noted, however, that the short-lived attempt at creating a new timekeeping system had a beneficial effect on Parisian decorative arts. The creation, around 1794, of a very small number of decimal system clocks, which clockmakers often ingeniously – and clairvoyantly - combined with the traditional duodecimal time system.
Here follows a nearly exhaustive list of the few known models that are similar to the present clock, whose enamels were done by, or attributed to, Joseph Coteau, and which present the rare feature of indicating both the decimal and duodecimal systems, as well as the Republican and Gregorian calendars. One such clock, signed by the clockmaker Laurent, is in the Carnavalet Museum in Paris (see Tardy, La pendule française, 2ème Partie: Du Louis XVI à nos jours, Paris, 1974, p. 352). A second clock, also signed Laurent, is illustrated in J-D. Augarde, Les ouvriers du Temps, La pendule à Paris de Louis XIV à Napoléon Ier, Geneva, 1996, p. 340, fig. 255. A third example, with an enamel cartouche bearing the signature “Bisson à Paris”, is illustrated in P. Kjellberg, Encyclopédie de la pendule française du Moyen Age au XXe siècle, Les Editions de l’Amateur, Paris, 1997, p. 324. A fourth clock, in an important private collection (see the exhibition catalogue La Révolution dans la mesure du Temps, Calendrier républicain heure décimale 1793-1805, Musée International d’Horlogerie, La Chaux-de-Fonds, 1989, p. 58, catalogue n° 19). One further similar clock is among the masterpieces contained in the collection of the Fondation Napoléon in Paris.
Joseph Coteau (1740-1801)
The most renowned enameller of his time, he worked with most of the best contemporary Parisian clockmakers. He was born in Geneva, where he was named master painter-enameler of the Académie de Saint Luc in 1766. Several years later he settled in Paris, and from 1772 to the end of his life, he was recorded in the rue Poupée. Coteau is known for a technique of relief enamel painting, which he perfected along with Parpette and which was used for certain Sèvres porcelain pieces, as well as for the dials of very fine clocks. Among the pieces that feature this distinctive décor are a covered bowl and tray in the Sèvres Musée national de la Céramique (Inv. SCC2011-4-2); a pair of “cannelés à guirlandes” vases in the Louvre Museum in Paris (see the exhibition catalogue Un défi au goût, 50 ans de création à la manufacture royale de Sèvres (1740-1793), Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1997, p. 108, catalogue n° 61); and a ewer and the “Comtesse du Nord” tray and bowl in the Pavlovsk Palace in Saint Petersburg (see M. Brunet and T. Préaud, Sèvres, Des origines à nos jours, Office du Livre, Fribourg, 1978, p. 207, fig. 250). A blue Sèvres porcelain lyre clock by Courieult, whose dial is signed “Coteau” and is dated “1785”, is in the Musée national du château in Versailles; it appears to be identical to the example mentioned in the 1787 inventory of Louis XVI’s apartments in Versailles (see Y. Gay and A. Lemaire, “Les pendules lyre”, in Bulletin de l’Association nationale des collectionneurs et amateurs d’Horlogerie ancienne, autumn 1993, n° 68, p. 32C).
Julien-Antoine Béliard (1758 - circa 1810) was one of the most important Parisian clockmakers of the late 18th century. The son, nephew, and cousin of Parisian clockmakers, Julien-Antoine was trained in his father’s workshop in the rue de Hurepoix, became a master on October 21, 1786, and eventually took over the family workshop. He encountered immediate success among the important collectors of fine horology and appears to have specialized in precision skeleton clocks. Like the best clockmakers of the French capital, he collaborated with the finest artisans, including the bronze caster Nicolas Bonnet and the enameler Joseph Coteau.
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