Rare Finely Chased and Gilt Bronze Mantel Clock “The Victory of Science”
“Lepaute Horloger du Roi”
Paris, début de l’époque Louis XVI, vers 1775
The enamel dial, signed “Lepaute Horloger du roi”, indicates the hours in Roman numerals and the minutes in Arabic numerals. It is set in a finely chased and gilt architectural base bearing the signature of the famous Parisian bronze caster Robert Osmond (1711-1789). The arched pediment features an egg and dart frieze with stylised motifs; it is supported by two lateral consoles terminating in acanthus leaf scrolls and fluting, inset with gilt bronze mounts. Two fluted pilasters on either side of the dial are draped with a fruits and foliate swag. The rectangular base has inset plaques with a matted ground and a foliate frieze. Two infants are seated at the summit. The first, a girl representing an allegory of Science, holds a compass while drawing; the second winged child is placing a crown on her head.
This model, extremely successful during the latter part of the 18th century, is based on a drawing today in the Paris Institut national d’Histoire de l’Art. Osmond created certain variations (see H. Ottomeyer and P. Pröschel, Vergoldete Bronzen, Band I, Munich, 1986, p. 228). We know of one example in the Jacquemard-André Museum in Paris to which the bronzier added two additional putti on either side of the dial (illustrated in P. Verlet, Les bronzes dorés du XVIIIe siècle, Paris, 1987, p. 117, fig. 148); three similar models are known: the first two are in the collection of the Mobilier national, one having been delivered to Madame Royale in Versailles in 1778 (see Le château de Versailles raconte le Mobilier national, 2011, p. 153-155), the other ordered by the Count d’Artois for the Palais du Temple in 1777 (see La folie d’Artois à Bagatelle, 1988, p. 108); another comparable clock, with dial signed Lepaute de Belle Fontaine, is in the British Royal Collection in Windsor Castle (Inv. RCIN30021).
Jean-André Lepaute (1720 - 1789)
This is the signature of the brothers Jean-André Lepaute (1720-1789) and Jean-Baptiste Lepaute (1727-1802), remarkable clockmakers born in Thonne-la-Long in Lorraine who were both horlogers du Roi.
Jean-André came to Paris as a young man and was joined by his brother in 1747. The Lepaute enterprise, founded informally in 1750, was formally incorporated in 1758. Jean-André, who was received as a maître by the corporation des horlogers in 1759, was lodged first in the Palais du Luxembourg and then, in 1756, in the Galeries du Louvre. Jean-André Lepaute wrote a horological treatise (Traité d’Horlogerie), published in Paris in 1755. Another volume, entitled Description de plusieurs ouvrages d’horlogerie (A Description of several horological pieces) appeared in 1764. In 1748 he married the mathematician and astronomer Nicole-Reine Etable de la Brière, who among other things predicted the return of Halley’s Comet.
Jean-Baptiste Lepaute, received maître in December 1776, was known for the equation of time clock he constructed for the Paris Hôtel de Ville (1780, destroyed in the fire of 1871) and the clock of the Hôtel des Invalides.
The two brothers worked for the French Garde-Meuble de la Couronne; their clocks were appreciated by the most important connoisseurs of the time, both in France and abroad, such as the Prince Charles de Lorraine and the Queen Louise-Ulrika of Sweden.
Jean-Baptiste took over the workshop when Jean-André retired in 1775.
Robert Osmond (1711 - 1789)
French bronze-caster Robert Osmond was born in Canisy, near Saint-Lô; he began his apprenticeship in the workshop of Louis Regnard, maître fondeur en terre et en sable, and became a master bronzier in Paris in 1746. He is recorded as working in the rue des Canettes in the St. Sulpice parish, moving to the rue de Mâcon in 1761. Robert Osmond became a juré, thus gaining a certain degree of protection of his creative rights. In 1753, he sent for his nephew in Normandy, and in 1761, the workshop, which by that time had grown considerably, moved to the rue de Macon. The nephew, Jean-Baptiste Osmond (1742-after 1790) became a master in 1764 and as of that date worked closely with his uncle, to such a degree that it is difficult to differentiate between the contributions of each. Robert appears to have retired around 1775. Jean-Baptiste, who remained in charge of the workshop after the retirement of his uncle, encountered difficulties and went bankrupt in 1784. Robert Osmond died in 1789.
Prolific bronze casters and chasers, the Osmonds worked with equal success in both the Louis XV and the Neo-classical styles. Prized by connoisseurs of the period, their work was distributed by clockmakers and marchands-merciers. Although they made all types of furnishing objects, including fire dogs, wall lights and inkstands, the only extant works by them are clocks, including one depicting the Rape of Europe (Getty Museum, California) in the Louis XV style and two important Neo-classical forms, of which there are several examples, as well as a vase with lions’ heads (Musée Condé, Chantilly and the Cleveland Museum of Art) and a cartel-clock with chased ribbons (examples in the Stockholm Nationalmuseum; Paris, Nissim de Camondo Museum). A remarkable clock decorated with a globe, cupids and a Sèvres porcelain plaque (Paris, Louvre) is another of their notable works.
Specialising at first in the rocaille style, in the early 1760’s they turned to the new Neo-classical style and soon numbered among its greatest practitioners. They furnished cases to the best clockmakers of the period, such as Montjoye, for whom they made cases for cartonnier and column clocks, the column being one of the favourite motifs of the Osmond workshop.