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Gille l’Ainé

Rare Gilt Bronze Mantel Clock with Allegorical Figure


Paris, transition between Louis XV and Louis XVI periods, circa 1765-1770

Height30.5 Width30.5 Depth13

The round white enamel dial, signed “Gille l’Aîné à Paris”, indicates the Roman numeral hours and the Arabic numeral five-minute intervals, by means of two pierced gilt bronze hands. It is housed in a finely chased gilt and patinated bronze architectural case. The movement is housed in a fluted cippus-shaped case, whose bezel is decorated with an interlace and egg and dart frieze; it is decorated with drapery and is surmounted by a rooster with outspread wings which stands on a mortuary head. A young child, who sits on a pile of books and holds a stylus in his hand, leans against the case as he examines a parchment roll. The oblong plinth rests upon a quadrangular base with protruding corners that are adorned with stylized rosettes and interlace and egg-and-dart friezes surmounted by scrolling foliage. The clock is raised upon four flattened ball feet.

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The unusual, architecturally-inspired design of this clock is characteristic of the pieces produced during the final years of the reign of King Louis XV, which displayed a strict neoclassical style featuring classically-inspired motifs, generally associated with allegorical figures. The figure of the child in the present clock is identical to that of an ivory statuette by François du Quesnoy, which is in the Musée d’Ecouen (see M. Boudon-Machuel, François du Quesnoy 1597-1643, Paris, 2005, p. 351). This beautifully proportioned model was extremely popular among the important Parisian collectors of the late 18th century.

Only a few similar models are known. Among them, one clock with a movement by Ferdinand Berthoud was formerly in the Georges Harth collection (see Tardy, La pendule française, 2ème Partie: Du Louis XVI à nos jours, Paris, 1975, p. 249). Two other clocks are known in which a celestial globe replaces the rooster. One, whose dial is signed “Ferdinand Berthoud”, is in the Royal Swedish Collection (illustrated in J. Böttiger, Konstsamlingarna a de Swenska Kungliga Slotten, Tome I, Stockholm, 1900). A second clock, whose dial is signed “Lepaute à Paris”, is in the Musée national du Château de Fontainebleau (see J-P. Samoyault, Musée national du Château de Fontainebleau, Catalogue des collections de mobilier, 1-Pendules et bronzes d’ameublement entrés sous le Premier Empire, RMN, Paris, 1989, p. 46). One further clock, in which the bronze caster has added a second child, was formerly in the Desurmont collection (sold in Paris, Hôtel Drouot, Me Ader, May 19-20, 1938, lot 165).

Gille l’Aîné

The signatures “Gille l’Aîné à Paris” and “Gille Fils à Paris” are those of two Parisian clockmakers, father and son. Until 1765, the signature “Gille L’Aîné” was used by Pierre I François Gille (1690-1765), while his son Pierre II Gille (1723-1784) signed his dials “Gille L’Aîné Fils”.

After becoming a master on 18 November 1746 as the son of a master, Pierre II Gille opened a workshop in the rue Saint-Martin, then the rue Saint-Denis and the rue aux Ours. At the beginning of his career he worked with his father, then he opened his own workshop in the mid-18th century and immediately encountered great success among influential collectors. On his father’s death in 1765, Pierre II Gille took over his signature, marking his pieces “Gille l’Aîné à Paris”.

During the 18th century, clocks bearing the signature “Gille L’aîné” were mentioned as belonging to the Marquis de Brunoy, the Prince Charles de Lorraine, the influential Farmer General Perrinet de Jars, the Duke de Gramont, the Prince de Condé and Augustus II of Saxony.