Important Mantel Clock, Blue Turquin Marble and Gilt Bronze with Matte and Burnished Finishing “Study”, Louis XVI period

Renacle-Nicolas Sotiau

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Very Likely Made under the Supervision of Dominique Daguerre
Renacle-Nicolas Sotiau
The Figures after Models by Sculptor Louis-Simon Boizot
The Case Attributed to Bronzier François Rémond
Important Mantel Clock, Blue Turquin Marble and Gilt Bronze with Matte and Burnished Finishing
Paris, Louis XVI period, circa 1785.
Height 55.5 cm; width 69.5 cm; depth 16 cm.

- Almost certainly the clock that was seized around 1794 by the Commission temporaire des Arts in the home of banker Quentin Crawford, former advisor to the king and friend of Queen Marie-Antoinette: “a clock by Sotiau with green bronze figures and gilt bronze ornaments, on a blue turquin marble base” (Archives Nationales, Commission temporaire des Arts, “Recherche et conservation des objets de sciences et d’art 1790-1808”).

The round white enamel dial, signed “Sotiau à Paris”, indicates the Roman numeral hours, and the Arabic numeral five-minute intervals, the date, and the days of the week, by means of four blued steel and pierced bronze hands. The movement is housed in a round case with a low relief scene depicting putti who are trying to light a fire; it supports a magnificent eagle with outstretched wings that is holding thunderbolts in its claws. On either side, two allegorical patinated bronze figures are seated; they depict a young man who is looking at a tablet and a young woman who is reading a book. The sculptural group is framed by a frieze of stylized leaves and is set on a quadrangular blue turquin marble base with rounded sides and protruding elements, which is elaborately decorated with chased gilt bronze motifs including a mascaron of a bearded man framed by winged Cupids whose bodies terminate in arabesque scrolls, and striated reserves with a thyrsus flanked by two trumpeting satyrs. The clock is raised upon eight feet that are decorated with finely chased friezes.

Often erroneously called “Les Arts et les Lettres”, “L’Etude et la Philosophie”, “aux Maréchaux” or “Les Liseuses”, in the commercial correspondence between the chaser-gilder François Rémond and the marchand-mercier Dominique Daguerre (the most important merchant of luxury objects of the reign of Louis XVI) this clock model is designated only as “L’Etude” (Study). The preparatory drawing for the clock, annotated by Rémond, was offered at auction in Paris in February 1981 (pictured in H. Ottomeyer and P. Pröschel, Vergoldete Bronzen, Die Bronzearbeiten des Spätbarock und Klassizismus, Band I, Munich, 1986, p. 295, fig. 4.17.5). The composition, produced as of 1784, was based on two figures created in 1776 by the sculptor Louis-Simon Boizot (1743-1809) for the Royal Sèvres Manufactory; they depicted a young girl reading and a young man writing, under the designations “Study” and “Philosophy”. One such bisque figure is in the Jones collection in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London (illustrated in H. Ottomeyer and P. Pröschel, op.cit., Band I, Munich, 1986, p. 294, fig. 4.17.2). These figures were used by Daguerre, who asked Rémond to place them against a pillar that housed the clock movement that was surmounted by an eagle, thus creating one of the most successful Parisian neoclassical clocks of the reign of Louis XVI. It became immediately popular among the most influential collectors of the day.

Certain documents of the late 18th century mention similar clocks bearing the signature of the clockmaker Sotiau as being the property of important contemporary collectors. All of these, however, are described as standing on white marble bases, which supports the hypothesis of this clock having a provenance from the Crawfurd collection. Among the other similar clocks, one was described as “…a mantel clock bearing the name of Sotiau with an enamel dial marking the hours and minutes in its case adorned with garlands and surmounted by an ormolu gilt copper eagle accompanied by two bronzed copper figures seated on a white marble base decorated in low relief, with bead ornaments and ormolu gilt copper feet 350 livres”, described in January 1790 in the probate inventory of Anne-Adélaïde de Mailly-Nesle, the wife of Louis-Marie, Prince of Arenberg. A mantel clock “bearing the name of Sotiau in Paris, with date, and two main figures of the Fable, in bronze, the clock standing on a pedestal and surmounted by an eagle, on a wide white marble base; the whole gilded in chased copper, 2400 livres” mentioned in an inventory of the possessions of the Princes of Salm in November 1790. Another similar clock was described in November 1787 during the sale of the collection of Joseph-Hyacinthe-François-de-Paule de Rigaud, Count de Vaudreuil: “N°382. A clock by Sotiau. It is composed of a cylinder surmounted by an eagle holding a thunderbolt in its claws, and two supports representing, on one side, a young man writing on a tablet, and on the other, a young woman who is studying. This cartel is set on a square pedestal adorned with low relief children, that is supported on a white marble plinth with sunken reserves and a frieze comprised of masks of men and children that terminate in ornamented scrolls; two sunken medallions represent Medusa’s heads. This clock blends formal beauty and high-quality finishing with an excellent movement that leaves nothing to be desired. The matte gilding was executed with the greatest care. Height 20 pouces, width 26”.

Several such clocks are known to exist today in important international public and private collections. One example, whose dial is signed “Dubuc jeune”, is in the Quirinal Palace in Rome (shown in A. Gonzales-Palacios, Il patrimonio artistico del Quirinale, Gli Arredi francesi, Milan, 1996, p. 308, n° 89). A second clock stands in the Salon des Aides de camp in the Elysée Palace (see M. and Y. Gay, “Du Pont d’Iéna à l’Elysée”, in Bulletin de l’association nationale des collectionneurs et amateurs d’horlogerie ancienne (ANCAHA), été 1993, n° 67, p. 12). A third example, whose dial is signed “Mercier à Paris”, is in the Banque de France in Paris (illustrated in M. and Y. Gay, “L’ANCAHA à la Banque de France”, in Bulletin ANCAHA, summer 1995, n° 73, p.7 6). A fourth clock, which was probably formerly in the collection of King Louis XVI, is pictured in C. Baulez, “Les bronziers Gouthière, Thomire et Rémond”, in the exhibition catalogue Louis-Simon Boizot 1743-1809, Sculpteur du roi et directeur de l’atelier de sculpture à la Manufacture de Sèvres, Paris, 2001, p. 287, fig. 9. Three further similar clocks are in the Royal Spanish collections (see J. Ramon Colon de Carvajal, Catalogo de relojes del Patrimonio nacional, Madrid, 1987, pp. 62, 64 and 92), and three other examples are in the Royal British collections (pictured in C. Jagger, Royal Clocks, The British Monarchy and its Timekeepers 1300-1900, London, 1983, p. 211-212).

François Rémond (circa 1747-1812)
Was one of the most important Parisian chaser-gilders of the last third of the 18th century. He began his apprenticeship in 1763 and became a master in 1774. His talent quickly attracted a wealthy clientele, including several important members of the Court. Through the intermediary of the marchand-mercier Dominique Daguerre, François Rémond took part in furnishing the homes of many influential collectors of the late 18th century, supplying clock cases, firedogs, and candelabra, which were always very well executed and whose designs were particularly elegant and innovative.
Renacle-Nicolas Sotiau (Liège 1749-Paris 1791)
He was no doubt the principal and most talented representative of Parisian luxury horology during the decade preceding the French Revolution. After becoming a master on June 24, 1782, he opened a workshop in the rue Saint-Honoré; it became a great success with the important collectors of the period. The important Parisian marchands-merciers, especially François Darnault and Dominique Daguerre, commissioned him to produce clock movements for eminent and exacting collectors, which were masterpieces of elegance and perfection. Like all the finest clockmakers, Sotiau acquired his clock cases from the best and most skilful artisans, often working with the bronze casters Pierre-Philippe Thomire and François Rémond. The excellence of his work won him the coveted title of “Horloger de Monseigneur le Dauphin” (the dauphin being the elder son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette). His clocks are often mentioned in probate inventories and appeared in the sales of the collections of important contemporary personalities. Clocks made by Sotiau were owned by financiers such as the wealthy Court banker Jean-Joseph de Laborde, important members of the Clergy, such as François-Camille, Prince de Lorraine, and influential aristocrats such as Louis-Antoine-Auguste de Rohan-Chabot, Duc de Chabot; Charles-Just de Beauvau, Prince de Craon; and Albert-Paul de Mesmes, comte d’Avaux. In addition to his private clientele, Sotiau also produced magnificent clocks for the Prince Regent of England (the future King George IV), as well as for Mesdames de France (the aunts of Louis XVI), and for Queen Marie-Antoinette. Today Sotiau’s clocks may be found in the most important international collections, both public and private. Among these are the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, the Frick Collection in New York, the Huntington collection in San Marino and the Musée national du Château de Versailles, as well as the Royal British and Spanish Collections.

Object Name: Important Mantel Clock, Blue Turquin Marble and Gilt Bronze with Matte and Burnished Finishing “Study”, Louis XVI period
Artist name: Renacle-Nicolas Sotiau
Reference: P213
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