Rare Gilt Bronze and Green Marble Mantel Clock
“Jean de La Fontaine” or “Homage to Poetic Genius”
“Dubuc le Jeune”
The Case Attributed to Claude Galle
Paris, Empire period, circa 1805-1810
The round white enamel dial, signed “Dubuc Le Jeune”, indicates the Roman numeral hours and Arabic numeral fifteen-minute intervals, and date, by means of three hands, two of which are made of pierced gilt bronze, while the third is made of blued steel. The hour and half hour striking movement is housed in a beautiful neoclassical case whose green marble panels are elaborately decorated with applied gilt bronze motifs relating to the fables of Jean de La Fontaine. Surmounting the clock is a scene from the fable of The Fox and the Stork, while the sides feature scenes from The Hare and the Tortoise and The Two Roosters. Flanking the dial are two figures of Fame playing the Trumpet with motifs inspired by The Eagle and the Owl. A framed reserve depicts the poet writing by the light of an oil lamp. On the sides of the case are The Crow and the Fox and The Fox and the Goat. The quadrangular base, which is adorned with a frieze of alternating leaves and grapes, has sides that are decorated with scenes from The Wolf and the Lamb and The Dog with his Master’s Dinner. The façade features a scene from The Two Goats. The clock is raised upon four flattened ball feet.
This clock is a remarkable homage to the work of Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695), who wrote the famous Fables (published in three volumes from 1668 to 1694) during the reign of Louis XIV. These moralistic tales with animal protagonists became extraordinarily popular as of their publication in the 17th century; they remain so to this day. The remarkable design and the excellent quality of the present clock’s chasing and gilding allow it to be attributed to the bronzier Claude Galle (1759-1815), who was one of the most important Parisian bronze casters of the period. Very few identical clocks are known today. One example, which is also signed Dubuc le Jeune, was formerly in the collection of Marc Revillon d’Apreval (illustrated in Tardy, La pendule française, 2ème Partie : Du Louis XVI à nos jours, Paris, 1975, p. 386, fig. 2. See also E. Niehüser, Die französische Bronzeuhr, Eine Typologie der figürlichen Darstellungen, Editions Callwey, Munich, 1997, p. 245, fig. 963).
Jean-Baptiste-Gabriel Dubuc (? - before 1820)
Jean-Baptiste-Gabriel Dubuc, who signed “Dubuc le jeune”, was one of the most important Parisian horologists of the Consulate and Empire periods. His workshop, located in the rue des Gravilliers from 1800 to 1817, was very active, as can be seen from the probate inventories of important figures of the early 19th century. They mention the work of Dubuc le jeune as being found in the homes of influential aristocrats such as Charles-Marie-Philippe Huchet de la Bédoyère and Mlle de Clermont-Montoison, the widow of the Marquis de la Guiche, as well as several other dignitaries of the period. They were part of the collection of Senator Henry Fargues and that of André Masséna, the Prince of Essling and Duke de Rivoli.
Claude Galle (1759 - 1815)
One of the foremost bronziers and fondeur-ciseleurs of the late Louis XVI and Empire periods, Claude Galle was born at Villepreux near Versailles. He served his apprenticeship in Paris under the fondeur Pierre Foy, and in 1784 married Foy’s daughter. In 1786 he became a maitre-fondeur. After the death of his father-in-law in 1788, Galle took over his workshop, soon turning it into one the finest, and employing approximately 400 craftsmen. Galle moved to Quai de la Monnaie (later Quai de l’Unité), and then in 1805 to 60 Rue Vivienne.
The Garde-Meuble de la Couronne, under the direction of sculptor Jean Hauré from 1786-88, entrusted him with many commissions. Galle collaborated with many excellent artisans, including Pierre-Philippe Thomire, and furnished the majority of the furnishing bronzes for the Château de Fontainebleau during the Empire. He received many other Imperial commissions, among them light fittings, figural clock cases, and vases for the palaces of Saint-Cloud, the Trianons, the Tuileries, Compiègne, and Rambouillet. He supplied several Italian palaces, such as Monte Cavallo, Rome and Stupinigi near Turin.
In spite of his success, and due in part to his generous and lavish lifestyle, as well as to the failure of certain of his clients (such as the Prince Joseph Bonaparte) to pay what they owed, Galle often found himself in financial difficulty. Galle’s business was continued by his son after his death by his son, Gérard-Jean Galle (1788-1846). Today his work may be found in the world’s most important museums and collections, those mentioned above, as well as the Musée National du Château de Malmaison, the Musée Marmottan in Paris, the Museo de Reloges at Jerez de la Frontera, the Residenz in Munich, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.