Rare Vase-Shaped Clock with Astronomic and Lunar Indications in Matte and Burnished Gilt Bronze
The Enamel Dial by Joseph Coteau
Case Attributed to Robert Osmond
Paris, early Louis XVI period, circa 1774
Vitale Collection; sold Christie’s, New York, The Vitale Collection of Highly Important European Clocks, 20 October 1996, lot 86.
The clock, with cercles tournants dials, indicates the Roman numeral hours and Arabic numeral five-minute intervals on rectangular enamel cartouches. The movement is housed in an oval vase-form case resting on an architectural base, made of finely chased bronze with matte and burnished gilt finishing. The vase, which terminates in a seed finial, features applied handles from which are suspended a massive flower and fruit swag with a salamander whose tail indicates the time, while a small rhinestone-set star shows the minutes. The flaring foot, decorated with gadrooning and a reed and leaf torus, stands on a molded base with matted reserves, which itself is supported on an architectural base with canted corners. The latter is adorned with ram’s heads on its sides, fluted pilasters in the corners and heavy swags of ribbon-tied laurel leaves. The one on the back features a ribbon from which is suspended a medallion bearing the profile of King Henri IV, while the one on the façade frames a round enamel dial that is signed “Mathieu Fecit”. The counter-enamel is signed “Coteau” and bears the date “1774”. The dial bears the signs of the zodiac along its outer edge, alternating with emerald green cabochons adorned with leaf motifs: it indicates the annual calendar, the days of the week, the date and the age and phases of the moon. The plinth, with canted corners, stands on a white Carrara marble base that is raised on four flattened ball feet.
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The present clock displays the neoclassical style of the period between the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI. It stands out due to its remarkable design and the quality of its chasing and gilding, which support an attribution to Robert Osmond, one of the finest Parisian bronziers of the time. It is interesting to note that nearly all the very small number of examples of this model bear the signature of the clockmaker Mathieu, suggesting that Mathieu may have held a commercial monopoly on the model. Certain less elaborate examples do not have enamel dials with astronomical indications; one example is a clock signed “Mathieu” that is illustrated in Tardy, La pendule française dans le monde, Paris, 1994, p. 192, plate XXIII.
Three further clocks that are identical to the present one are known. The first, which is flanked by allegorical figures in patinated bronze, was delivered in 1798 to the Michael Palace in Saint Petersburg and is today in the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow (illustrated in J-D. Augarde, Les ouvriers du Temps, La pendule à Paris de Louis XIV à Napoléon Ier, Editions Antiquorum, Genève, 1996, p. 205, fig. 167). The second, which was successively in the George Field, Wertheimer and Greenberg collections, is illustrated in Winthrop Kellogg Edey, French Clocks, 1967, p. 67. A further example appeared on the French art market during the sale of the Charles de Beistegui collection in the Château de Groussay (sold Sotheby’s, France, June 3, 1999, lot 868).
The signature “Mathieu fecit” is that of Claude Mathieu, known as “Mathieu the elder”, one of the most important Parisian clockmakers of the second half of the 18th century. The brother of clockmaker Edme Mathieu, known as “Mathieu the younger”, he became a master on July 31, 1754. His workshop is recorded in the rue Neuve des Capucins in 1754 and the rue Saint-Honoré as of 1757 (see J-D. Augarde, Les ouvriers du Temps, Genève, 1996, p. 374). He quickly gained renown among knowledgeable collectors of luxury horology, especially the Count de La Marck; several of his clocks were mentioned as having belonged to important collectors. During the Revolution, he sat on the jury entrusted with resolving questions regarding the new Revolutionary time system.
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.
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).