Rare Gilt and Patinated Bronze Mantel Clock “The Black Porter”, Empire period
Call +33 1 45 61 44 55
After a drawing by bronzier Jean-André Reiche (1752-1817)
Rare Gilt and Patinated Bronze Mantel Clock
“The Black Porter”
Paris, Empire period, circa 1795-1800
Height 36 cm
Dominique and Chantal Fléchon, “La pendule au nègre”, in Bulletin de l’Association nationale des collectionneurs et amateurs d’Horlogerie ancienne, Spring 1992, n° 63
The round enamel dial indicates the hours and the minute graduations; it is set into a case resembling a woven basket or a bundle of cotton borne on the back of a magnificent figure depicting a finely chased black man; his enamel eyes give great expression to his face. With a bare torso and a water gourd hanging from his waist, he wears a hat and carries a bamboo cane in one hand, while holding a letter in the other. The oval base is adorned with the motif of a monkey swinging from a cord stretched between two palm trees; the sides are decorated with parakeets in palm trees. The whole is raised upon flattened ball feet.
Before the late 18th century exotic figures were rarely used as decorative themes in French horological creations, with the exception of clocks in the Chinese or Japanese style. It was not until the end of the Ancien Régime- more precisely the last decade of the 18th century - that the first “au nègre” or “au sauvage” clocks appeared. They reflected a philosophical current developed in literary works such as Chateaubriand’s Atala, an apology of the Christian ideal; Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe’s masterpiece published in 1719; and the popular novel Paul et Virginie, published by Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre in 1787—the novel, which depicts the innocence of mankind, was immensely successful. The present clock is related to this philosophical and literary movement; its design, inspired by the labour of black slaves, may be seen in the preparatory drawing registered in early 1808 by the talented Parisian artist and bronzier Jean-André Reiche. That drawing is conserved in the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris.
Only a few similar models are known, many of which feature variations, particularly in the treatment of the base. Among them, one clock, formerly in the Léon Raugel collection, is illustrated in Tardy, La pendule française, 2ème partie: Du Louis XVI à nos jours, Paris, 1974, p. 358; a second example, whose dial is signed Fluteau Baran à Montargis, is illustrated in P. Kjellberg, Encyclopédie de la pendule française du Moyen Age au XXe siècle, Paris, 1997, p. 343. A third example is shown in E. Niehüser, Die französische Bronzeuhr, Munich, 1997, p. 149, fig. 240; lastly, a similar model is in the well-known Musée François Duesberg in Mons (see Musée François Duesberg, Arts décoratifs 1775-1825, Brussels, 2004, p. 67).
In April 1820, a clock, probably of the same model, was briefly mentioned in the probate inventory of the widow of Arnoult-Louis-Marie, Marquis de Lostanges: “A mantel clock representing a porter bearing the movement, gilt and bronzed, with enamel dial and hand marking the hours and minutes, signed Thiery à Paris, with glass dome…120 francs”.
Jean-André Reiche (1752-1817)
One of the most important Parisian bronziers of the Empire period, he was originally from Leipzig and settled in Paris during the reign of Louis XVI, becoming a master founder in June 1785. His workshop moved to the rue Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth and his renown immediately grew. At first designated as a bronzier and marble specialist, during the Empire he was listed as a “marchand-fabricant de bronzes”. He died on March 18, 1817, leaving his business to his son Jean Reiche, who continued to run it successfully during the Restoration period.
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