Fine Chased, Gilt, and Patinated Bronze Mantel Clock
“The Coffee Bearer”
Model Attributed to Louis-Simon Deverberie
Paris, Directoire period, circa 1795-1800
The round enamel dial indicates the Roman numeral hours and the Arabic quarter hours and minute graduations by means of two gilt bronze hands; it is set in a gilt bronze barrel into which a young black man, barefoot and shirtless and holding a stick, pours a sack of coffee as he looks toward the spectator. His face is very expressive and greatly contribute to the clock’s realism. On the other side of the barrel, a naturalistic palm tree lends balance to the composition. The octagonal chased and gilt bronze base is decorated with bas-reliefs depicting bees and two young black children who are gathering twigs together. The base is raised upon five oval bead-decorated feet.
The black man as “noble savage” was rarely used as a decorative theme in French or European horological creations before the late 18th century. It was not until the end of the Ancien Régime – and precisely during the final decade of the 18th century and the early 19th century- that the first clocks known as “au nègre “ or “au sauvage” began to appear. They reflect a philosophical movement expressed in literary and historical works such as Paul et Virginie by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (which was published in 1787 and depicted the innocence of man); Atala by Chateaubriand (which restored the Christian ideal); and Daniel Defoe’s masterpiece Robinson Crusoe (published in 1719). The present clock depicts a young black slave such as those who worked in colonial plantations. It may be attributed to the bronzier Jean-Simon Deverberie.
Very few similar clocks are known to date. Among them, one example was sold by Sotheby’s, London, on December 5, 1980, lot 127; a second example is illustrated in P. Kjellberg, Encyclopédie de la pendule française du Moyen Age au XXe siècle, Paris, 1997, p. 344; a further similar clock, whose dial is signed Gamot à Lille, is illustrated in E. Niehüser, Die französische Bronzeuhr, Munich, 1997, p. 156.
Jean-Simon Deverberie (1764 - 1824)
Jean-Simon Deverberie was one of the most important Parisian bronziers of the late 18th century and the early decades of the following century. Deverberie, who was married to Marie-Louise Veron, appears to have specialized at first in making clocks and candelabra that were adorned with exotic figures, and particularly African figures. Around 1800 he registered several preparatory designs for “au nègre” clocks, including the “Africa”, “America”, and “Indian Man and Woman” models (the drawings for which are today preserved in the Cabinet des Estampes in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris). He opened a workshop in the rue Barbette around 1800, in the rue du Temple around 1804, and in the rue des Fossés du Temple between 1812 and 1820.