search icon
Bréant  -  Coteau
Joseph Coteau (1740-1801)

Rare White Marble and Gilt Bronze Turkish-Style Lyre Clock with Visible Movement


Dial signed by the clockmaker Jacques-Thomas Bréant

Enamels by Joseph Coteau

Paris, Louis XVI period, circa 1785

Height62 cm Width32 cm Depth13.5 cm

The round white enamel dial, with delicate bell motifs under gold and polychrome canopies, is signed “coteau”. It features a blue enamel cartouche bearing the signature “Jacs Breant à Paris”, and partially reveals the movement, while indicating the Roman numeral hours, the Arabic numeral five-minute intervals and date, and has a central seconds hand. The white Carrara marble lyre-shaped case is adorned with finely chased gilt mounts in the Oriental style, with motifs such as vegetation, pineapples, hanging draperies, cut-out friezes of stylized motifs, tassels, olive-shaped beads, and beadwork, among other things. The clock is surmounted by a fine male figure dressed and coiffed in the Oriental style, who is holding an umbrella and sits on a cushion that rests on an entablature decorated with scallops, under which is fixed the oscillating bimetallic pendulum.

According to Svend Eriksen, the first true lyre clock model is in the Royal Swedish Collection (see Early Neoclassicism in France, London, 1974). In France, the general makeup of the lyre clock changed very little since its creation, which is thought to have taken place in the late 1750s or the early years of the following decade. However, while the form of lyre clocks did not significantly evolve, the materials used, as well as the ingenious and complex movements, underwent considerable changes, reflecting the changing tastes of connoisseurs and demonstrating the extraordinary skill of clockmakers of the time.

The great majority of known models have a dial that is set within a bronze lyre-shaped frame, and are surmounted by a sun mask or eagle’s heads; certain clocks have Sèvres porcelain cases (for several such clocks, see P. Kjellberg, Encyclopédie de la pendule française du Moyen Age au XXe siècle, Paris, 1997, p. 224-227; and Y. Gay and A. Lemaire, “Les pendules lyre”, in Bulletin de l’association nationale des collectionneurs et amateurs d’horlogerie ancienne, 1993, n° 68, fig. 53 and 62).

Subtly blending the characteristics of lyre and skeleton clocks, the present example is extremely elegant. It stands out from other examples due to the quality of the chasing of its gilt bronze mounts and its unusual Turkish-style composition. The “à la turque” decorative style seems to have appeared in the early 1780s and was initially appreciated only by a handful of important collectors of the day, including the Count d’Artois who employed it for his Bagatelle pavilion (see the exhibition catalogue La folie d’Artois, 1988, p. 93, 104 and 105). Among the rare known examples of this type of clock, a similar model, today only partially preserved and lacking its movement, is in the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris (illustrated in L. Metman, Le musée des Arts décoratifs, Le bronze, 2ème album, Paris, circa 1910, plate CXVI, fig.1046).

Jacques-Thomas Bréant (1753 - 1807)

Born in Paris, he began as an ouvrier libre. In 1783, the year he became a master, he was established in the Enclos Saint-Martin-des-Champs. In 1783 his workshop was in the rue Saint-Martin; in 1786 he opened a shop in the Palais Royal; in 1795 he was in the rue du Temple. Among his clients were the Duke d’Orléans, the Marquis de Laval, de la Rochebrochard, d’Aulany and d’Amenoncour, the Countesses de Faudoas and de Vascoeil, the Count de Villefranche and Messieurs Michau de Montaran and L’Espine de Granville, however he went bankrupt in 1786, and again in 1788. In 1788, several case makers and enamellers were listed among his creditors, including the bronziers P. Viel, N. Florion, E. Blavet, A. Lemire, P. d’Ecosse and J. B. J. Zaccon, the gilders C. Galle, J. P. Carrangeot, L. Le Prince, and the enamellers Merlet, Bezelle, Barbichon, as well as the renowned Joseph Coteau.

Joseph Coteau (1740 - 1801)

The most renowned enameller of his time, he worked with most of the best contemporary Parisian clockmakers. He was born in Geneva, where he was named master painter-enameler of the Académie de Saint Luc in 1766. Several years later he settled in Paris, and from 1772 to the end of his life, he was recorded in the rue Poupée. Coteau is known for a technique of relief enamel painting, which he perfected along with Parpette and which was used for certain Sèvres porcelain pieces, as well as for the dials of very fine clocks. Among the pieces that feature this distinctive décor are a covered bowl and tray in the Sèvres Musée national de la Céramique (Inv. SCC2011-4-2); a pair of “cannelés à guirlandes” vases in the Louvre Museum in Paris (see the exhibition catalogue Un défi au goût, 50 ans de création à la manufacture royale de Sèvres (1740-1793), Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1997, p. 108, catalogue n° 61); and a ewer and the “Comtesse du Nord” tray and bowl in the Pavlovsk Palace in Saint Petersburg (see M. Brunet and T. Préaud, Sèvres, Des origines à nos jours, Office du Livre, Fribourg, 1978, p. 207, fig. 250). A blue Sèvres porcelain lyre clock by Courieult, whose dial is signed “Coteau” and is dated “1785”, is in the Musée national du château in Versailles; it appears to be identical to the example mentioned in the 1787 inventory of Louis XVI’s apartments in Versailles (see Y. Gay and A. Lemaire, “Les pendules lyre”, in Bulletin de l’Association nationale des collectionneurs et amateurs d’Horlogerie ancienne, autumn 1993, n° 68, p. 32C).