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Époques: Consulat

  • Thomire  -  Boizot
    Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1757-1843)
    Louis-Simon Boizot (1743-1809)

    Rare Patinated Bronze Group representing “The Parting of Hector and Andromache”

    Bronze001-03_BD_MAIL

    Attributed to Pierre-Philippe Thomire, created under the direction of Louis-Simon Boizot after a bisque group of the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory

    Paris, early 19th century, circa 1800-1810

    Height47 Width33 Depth26.5

    This very fine group featuring four figures illustrates one of the best-known episodes of classical mythology. The Trojan prince Hector is shown wearing a plumed helmet, a cloak, and antique armor. He embraces his wife Andromache, who is wearing a diadem and holds their son Astyanax in her arms as she gazes sadly at her husband. They stand next to a truncated column that stands on a rock. Behind them, a young woman holds the child’s cot. She may be either the nursemaid or Helen, who had become a friend of Andromache. The figures stand on a round plinth that is treated in a naturalistic manner. It bears the title “The Parting of Hector and Andromache”.

    The theme of the farewell of Hector, the Prince of Troy and the son of King Priam, and his wife Andromache, was frequently treated by Parisian artists and artisans beginning in the final decades of the 18th century. Taken from the Iliad, the famous epic poem by the Greek poet Homer, it depicts the moment when Hector, about to combat Achilles and certain he will be defeated, says goodbye to his loved ones. This iconography was given a different treatment in the clock that the Lepautes delivered in 1805, which was to be placed on the mantel of the Grand Salon of the Petit Trianon, and is today in the French Public Collections (illustrated in M-F. Dupuy-Baylet, Pendules du Mobilier national 1800-1870, Editions Faton, Dijon, 2006, p. 111, catalogue n° 47).

    The present group was cast in bronze after a Sèvres bisque statuette that was created circa 1797-1798 under the direction of Boizot; an example of that model is in the Louvre Museum in Paris (see T. Préaud and G. Scherf, La Manufacture des Lumières, La sculpture à Sèvres de Louis XV à la Révolution, Editions Faton, Dijon, 2015, p. 270). The group’s exceptionally fine chasing suggests it should be attributed to the talented bronze caster Pierre-Philippe Thomire. Thomire also worked with Boizot on another bronze group that is today in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art (see T. Picquenard, “Catalogue de l’œuvre sculptée de Louis-Simon Boizot”, in the exhibition catalogue Louis-Simon Boizot 1743-1809, Sculpteur du roi et directeur de l’atelier de sculpture à la Manufacture de Sèvres, Musée Lambinet, Versailles, 2001-2002, p. 165-166).

    Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1757 - 1843)

    Pierre-Philippe Thomire was the most important Parisian bronzier of the last quarter of the 18th century and the first decades of the following century. Early on in his career he worked for Pierre Gouthière, ciseleur-fondeur du roi, and toward the mid-1770’s began working with Louis Prieur. He later became one of the bronziers attached to the Manufacture Royale de Sèvres, creating the bronze mounts for most of the important creations of the day. After the Revolution, he purchased the stock of Martin-Eloi Lignereux, thus becoming the most important suppliers of furniture bronzes for châteaux and Imperial Palaces. In addition, he worked for a wealthy private clientele, both French and foreign, including several of Napoleon’s Marshals. Thomire retired in 1823.



    Louis-Simon Boizot (1743 - 1809)

    The son of Antoine Boizot, a designer at the Gobelins tapestry manufacture, Boizot worked in the atelier of sculptor René-Michel Slodtz (1705–1764), who also trained Houdon. Boizot married Marguerite Virginie Guibert, the daughter of sculptor Honoré Guibert. In 1778 he was admitted to the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture and exhibited at the yearly salons until 1800. His portrait busts of Louis XVI and Joseph II were created in 1777 and made in bisque porcelain at Sèvres.

    From 1773 to 1800 Boizot directed the sculpture workshop of the Sèvres porcelain Manufactory, producing the series of unglazed biscuit figures with a matte finish resembling that of marble.

    Boizot also created terracotta designs for gilt-bronze clock cases, such as that of the allegorical “Avignon” clock in the Wallace Collection in London, which was cast and chased by Pierre Gouthière in 1777.



    In the same category

    Rare Pair of Two-Light Gilt Bronze Candelabra with Knurled, Patinated, Matte and Burnished Finishing

    Candelabres028-01_HD_PRESSE

    Paris, Consulate period, circa 1800

    Height45.5 Diamètre13

    The candelabra feature an anthropomorphic stem in the form of a young Black boy with enameled face and eyes. The boys are wearing earrings and a double row of pearls around their necks, as well as a loincloth with pierced latticework trimming that is held in place by cords. In either hand they hold light arms in the form of tapering torches that terminate in gadrooned basins with drip pans whose rims are knurled. The figures stand on tall cylindrical bases with mille-raie decorated bands and concave molding; the bases are supported on circular plinths that are raised on three small lions’ paw feet.

    It was not until the late 18th century that “exotic” figures became a common decorative theme for works of decorative art in France and Europe. Toward the end of the Ancien Régime –more precisely during the final decade of the 18th century and the early years of the following century –  the first models of candlesticks, candelabra and clocks known as “au nègre” or “au sauvage” appeared. They echoed the new philosophy that informed some of the most famous literary and historical works of the day, including Paul et Virginie by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (published in 1787, it speaks of the innocence of Man), Atala by Chateaubriand, which restores the Christian ideal, and Robinson Crusoe, the masterpiece that Daniel Defoe published in 1719. As was often the case, these literary works were a rich source of inspiration for the artisans of the period, and particularly for bronze casters. This resulted in many elegant works featuring similar figures; they inspired numerous models of lighting instruments and clocks. By the end of the 18th century, certain models were found in the homes of important collectors of the time – for example, in 1789 in the home of the lawyer André-Marie Alix, in 1790 in the home of Marie-Victoire de Saint-Simon, and in 1808 in the home of François-Joseph Lelièvre de Lagrange.

    This was the context within which the present pair of candelabra was made. Today only a small number of similar models are known; they sometimes feature variations in the treatment of the bases. Among them, one pair, in which the figures are wearing feather headdresses, was sold by Christie’s, Monaco, on December 5, 1992, lot 87. A second example was formerly in the collection of Baron Erich von Goldschmidt-Rothschild (sold in Geneva, Habsburg-Feldman, May 10, 1988, lot 127). Two further pairs of comparable candelabra are in the Musée François Duesberg in Mons (illustrated in Musée François Duesberg, Arts décoratifs 1775-1825, Bruxelles, 1998, p. 60-61).

    In the same category

    Victory Candelabra

    928

    Paris, circa 1800-1805

    Height81

    A fine pair of Empire gilt and patinated bronze three-light candelabra “à la Victoire”, the stem of each, formed as a classically-robed winged Victory whose uplifted arms support a lamp issuing from a pilaster placed upon her head and featuring three candle branches that terminate in vase-shaped candle nozzles with stylised flames. Each figure stands on a cylindrical anthemion-mounted and foliate-cast base that is supported by crouching griffons and rests upon on a shaped triangular green marble base.

    These very fine and unusual candelabra relate to those made by renowned bronzier  Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843), who created a similar pair today in the Metropolitan Museum, New York (illustrated in Hans Ottomeyer and Peter Pröschel, “Vergoldete Bronzen”, 1986, p. 329, pl. 5.2.4).

    Thomire’s candelabra were inspired by designs of Napoleon’s architects and ornamentalists Charles Percier (1764-1838) and Pierre François Léonard Fontaine (1762-1853), who in turn had been inspired by Antique statues of Victory (illustrated ibid., p. 328, pl. 5.2.1 and p. 329, pl. 5.2.3 respectively).

    A number of such figures were made during the early nineteenth century, produced by such artisans as Italian artist and designer Filippo Pelagio Pelagi (1775-1860) whose designs for the winged female caryatid supports for a console, circa 1833-34, are today in the Biblioteca Archiginnasio Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe, Raccolta Disegni Palagi (inv. 2155) in Bologne. They are illustrated in G. Beretti, A. Cotiino, B. Gallizia di Vergano, L. Melegati, “Gli Splendori del Bronzo, Mobili e oggetti d’arredo tra Francia e Italia 1750 1850”, 2002, p. 149, pl. 74.

    Robin  -  Dubuisson  -  Schwerdfeger
    Robert Robin (1741-1799)
    Dubuisson (1731-1815)
    Ferdinand Schwerdfeger (1734-1818)

    Exceptional Mantel or Desk Clock

    “Regulator with Remontoir d’Egalité” 

    0031_05577_PENDUL

    The Case Attributed to the Cabinetmaker Jean-Ferdinand-Joseph Schwerdfeger

    Paris, Directory-Consulate period, circa 1795

    Height44 Width24.5 Depth19.5

    Provenance:

    – Probably the clock that was estimated at 500 francs in 1830 in the study of the well-known porcelain manufacturer Christophe Dihl (1752-1830): “A regulator by Robin à Paris, with seconds and date, compensation balance with thermometer, in a glazed mahogany case”.

     

    The enamel dial, signed “Robin”, also bears the mark “dub”, which is that of Etienne Gobin, known as Dubuisson (1731-1815), a celebrated Parisian enameler who was a contemporary and rival of Joseph Coteau. It indicates the Roman numeral hours, the minutes graduations, the seconds, and the annual calendar, with indication of the date and the months of the year, as well as the equation of time, which shows the difference between true time and mean time. Its remarkable movement with complications has a Graham escapement and a constant force remontoir d’égalité, a bimetallic gridiron pendulum with a pyrometer that bears information on the temperature of dilation of metal, and two weights for the going train. The mahogany or mahogany-veneered architectural case has a slightly protruding cornice and is glazed on all sides, which allows the remarkable and complex movement to be viewed. The clock is elegantly adorned with finely chased matte-gilded bronze mounts. The entablature of the cornice is decorated with a molding chased with water leaves and adorned with an egg-and-dart frieze. The glazed panels are framed by twisted cord and stylized leaf friezes. The top spandrels feature scrolls and vine leaves, and a magnificent fringed drapery and leafy garland highlight the curve of the dial. The molded protruding base is adorned with a frieze of parsley leaves. The clock is raised upon four quadrangular gilt bronze feet.

    In addition to its highly precise movement with complications and its excellent craftsmanship, the present clock is noteworthy for its polished mahogany architectural case, whose sober design was intended to showcase the ingenious and extraordinary mechanism, as well as the beauty of the dial. One particular cabinetmaker specialized in creating such cases toward the end of the 18th century: Ferdinand Schwerdfeger (1734-1818). Schwerdfeger was mentioned several times as “Ferdinand” in several early 19th century auctions. Upon the death of his wife in 1803, his workshop was described as containing almost exclusively mahogany clock cases. It was Schwerdfeger who made the case for the geographic clock that Antide Janvier presented in 1791 to King Louis XVI, which is today in the Musée national du château de Fontainebleau (illustrated in M. Hayard, Antide Janvier 1751-1835, Horloger des étoiles, p. 1995, p. 79). It was very likely the same cabinetmaker – who also made luxury furniture for pour Marie-Antoinette – who was entrusted with the creation of the case of the present clock, whose design is particularly remarkable. Today only a few comparable clocks are known to exist. One example, signed Lepaute, whose design is less elegant, was delivered in 1804; it was intended for the bedchamber of Napoleon at Fontainebleau Palace (illustrated in J-P. Samoyault, Pendules et bronzes d’ameublement entrés sous le Premier Empire, Paris, 1989, p. 73). A second clock, signed “Robin”, is illustrated in Tardy, La pendule française, 2ème partie: du Louis XVI à nos jours, Paris, 1975, p. 325.

    Robert Robin (1741 - 1799)

    Having become a master horologist in November 1767, he was one of the most important Parisian horologists of the last third of the 18th century. He received the honorary titles of Valet de Chambre-Horloger Ordinaire du Roi et de la Reine in 1783 and 1786. He enjoyed an extraordinary career, distinguishing himself by his exceptional contribution toward the improvement of time measuring instruments.

    In 1778, the Academy of Sciences approved two of his inventions, one of which led to the construction of an astronomic clock with a meridian traced on a pyramid, which was acquired by the Menus Plaisirs for Louis XVI that same year; Robin published a very detailed historical and mechanical description of that clock. He also made mantel regulators with astronomic indications and compensation balance, of which the Marquis de Courtanvaux, a man of science and a great connoisseur of precision horology, was one of the earliest acquirers. During the Revolution he made decimal watches and clocks. He worked in the Grande rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré (1772), the rue des Fossés-Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois (1775), the rue Saint-Honoré in the l’Hôtel d’Aligre (1778) and the Galeries du Louvre in 1786.

    For his desk regulators, Robin chose very sober architectural cases, which look extraordinarily modern to contemporary viewers. He always worked with the finest artisans of the day, including the bronziers and chasers Robert and Jean Baptiste Osmond, Pierre Philippe Thomire, François Rémond and Claude Galle, the cabinetmakers Jean-Henri Riesener, Ferdinand Schwerdfeger and Adam Weisweiler, the enamellers Barbezat, Dubuisson, Merlet and Coteau for the dials, and Richard and Montginot for the springs.

    Robert Robin’s two sons, Nicolas Robert (1775-1812) and Jean-Joseph (1781-1856), were also fine clockmakers and ably continued to run their father’s workshop.



    Dubuisson (1731 - 1815)

    Étienne Gobin, known as Dubuisson, was one of the best enamellers working in Paris during the latter part of the 18th century and the early 19th century. During the mid 1750’s he was employed at Sèvres, then opened his own workshop, being recorded in the 1790’s in the rue de la Huchette and, circa 1812, in the rue de la Calandre. Specializing in enamelled watch cases and clock dials, he is known for his great skill and attention to detail.



    Ferdinand Schwerdfeger (1734 - 1818)

    Ferdinand Schwerdfeger is one of the most important Parisian cabinetmakers of the late 18th century. After becoming a master in May 1786, he opened a workshop in Paris and quickly gained a following. His work, however, remains little known due to his becoming a master shortly before the Revolution, and to the fact that he rarely stamped his work. Among the pieces that may be attributed to him with certitude, one should mention an ensemble delivered to Marie-Antoinette, as well as several regulator and clock cases for some of the finest horologists of the day, including Antide Janvier, Jean-Simon Bourdier and Robert Robin (see M-A Paulin, Schwerdfeger, ébéniste de Marie-Antoinette, in L’Estampille/L’Objet d’art, October 2003).



    In the same category

    Rare Gilt and Patinated Bronze Mantel Clock with Matte and Burnished Finishing

    “Young Black Man Pushing a Barrel”

    Pendule371-02_HD_WEB

    Paris, Consulate-Empire period, circa 1800-1805

    Height32.5 Width27 Depth10.5

    The round white enamel dial, bearing the words “à Paris”, indicates the Roman numeral hours and the Arabic numeral fifteen-minute intervals by means of two hands. The case is made of finely chased bronze that is patinated and gilt, with both matte and burnished finishing. The bezel is adorned with a frieze of palmettes and mille raie motifs; the movement is housed in a barrel that is being rolled by the magnificent figure of a young black man made of patinated bronze; he has enamel eyes and is wearing armbands with bead decoration, and a pair of trousers. The quadrangular base with canted corners is elaborately adorned with applied motifs of birds of prey and ribbon-tied wreaths and, on the façade, a trophy representing Commerce that is comprised of package tied with string, palmettes, an anchor, a basket, a barrel, and a coffer on which a parrot is perched. The clock stands on four bell-shaped feet that are decorated with knurled friezes and stylized motifs.

    Toward the end of the 18th century, the philosophical writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau extolled the moral benefits of a return to Nature through the myth of the “noble savage”. The taste for exoticism, conveyed by popular literature, became fashionable. The great success of  “Paul et Virginie” written by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre in 1788, which itself derived from the famous “Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe, Marmontel’s novel “Les Incas”, which appeared during the American Revolution, and Chateaubriand’s “Atala”, which was published in 1801, would profoundly influence Europeans’ vision of other civilizations.  The Old World became imbued with a romantic nostalgia that was linked to the quest for a pagan Eden that could be regenerated by Christianity. As is often the case in the French decorative arts, this ideological movement was displayed in certain Parisian creations, whether artistic or of the decorative arts, including clocks and lighting instruments.

    The present clock was created within that particular context. The “Young Black Man Pushing a Barrel” clock model is one of the rarest in Parisian horology. Today only a handful of such clocks are known. Among them, one example was presented in 1978 at the exhibition “La pendule au nègre” that was held at the Museum of the Hôtel Sandelin in Saint-Omer (illustrated in E. Niehüser, Die französische Bronzeuhr, Eine Typologie der figürlichen Darstellungen, Munich, 1997, p. 238, fig. 814 and in P. Kjellberg, Encyclopédie de la pendule française du Moyen Age au XXe siècle, Les éditions de l’Amateur, Paris, 1997, p. 344, fig. B). A second clock is illustrated in G. and A. Wannenes, Les plus belles pendules françaises de Louis XIV à l’Empire, Editions Polistampa, Florence, 2013, p. 308.

    Deverberie
    Jean-Simon Deverberie (1764-1824)

    Rare Gilt and Patinated Bronze Mantel Clock

    “The African Huntress”

    Pendule358-03_BD_MAIL

    Attributed to Jean-Simon Deverberie

    Paris, Directory-Consulate period, circa 1800

    Height45.5 Width35.5 Depth14

    The round white enamel dial indicates the Arabic numeral hours and the Arabic numeral fifteen-minute intervals by means of two engraved or pierced bronze hands. It is housed in a chased and gilt and patinated bronze case. The bezel is adorned with delicate stylized and bead friezes. The clock is surmounted by a magnificent female figure – a seated black huntress who is wearing a feather loincloth, with a quiver containing feathered arrows slung across her chest. Her curly hair is held in place by a silvered headband and her glass eyes are naturalistic. She is wearing necklaces, rings, earrings, and ankle bracelets; in her right hand she holds an arrow and in her left, a bow. Her left foot rests upon a turtle with a finely chased shell. On the opposite side, a seated lioness turns toward the huntress. The high, sloping and molded architectural base is decorated with ribbon-tied flower and leaf garlands, a bead frieze and an applied scene depicting young cherubs who are hunting and fishing. The clock is raised upon six finely chased feet.

    Black figures were rarely used as a decorative theme in French and European horology before the late 18th century. It was not until the end of the Ancien Régime, and precisely the last decade of the 18th century and the early years of the following century, that the first “au nègre” or “au sauvage” clocks appeared. They echoed a philosophical current that was developed in several important literary and historical works, including Paul et Virginie by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (published in 1787, it depicts the innocence of Man), Atala by Chateaubriand (which restores the Christian ideal), and particularly Daniel Defoe’s 1719 masterpiece, Robinson Crusoe. The original drawing of the present clock, entitled “L’Afrique”, was registered by Parisian chaser-caster Jean-Simon Deverberie in the year VII (illustrated in Dominique and Pascal Flechon, “La pendule au nègre”, in Bulletin de l’association nationale des collectionneurs et amateurs d’horlogerie ancienne, Spring 1992, n° 63, p. 32, photo n° 2).

    Among the known identical clocks one model, whose dial is signed “Gaulin à Paris”, is pictured in H. Ottomeyer and P. Pröschel, Vergoldete Bronzen, Die Bronzearbeiten des Spätbarock und Klassizismus, Band I, Munich, 1986, p. 381, fig. 5.15.25. A second model, featuring variations including the fact that the figure stands on an arch, is illustrated in P. Kjellberg, Encyclopédie de la pendule française du Moyen Age à nos jours, Paris, 1997, p. 350. One further example, whose dial is signed “Ridel”, is in the Musée François Duesberg in Mons (illustrated in the exhibition catalogue “De noir et d’or, Pendules « au bon sauvage”, Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels, 1993).

    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.



    In the same category

    Important Patinated and Gilt Bronze Mantel Clock with Matte and Burnished Finishing

    “The Amerindian Hunter”

    “Alexandre”

    Paris, Directoire-Consulate period, circa 1800

    Height54 Width41 Depth12.5

    The round enamel dial, signed “Alexandre à Paris”, indicates the Roman numeral hours and the Arabic fifteen-minute intervals by means of two bronze hands. It is housed in a finely chased patinated and gilt bronze case with matte and burnished finishing. The clock is surmounted by the figure of a black hunter wearing a feather headdress and a feather loincloth who is holding a bow in his left hand and an arrow in his right hand, with a quiver of arrows slung across his chest. He is sitting on a sloping rectangular form decorated with a lion’s head, which is placed in a ship with a wolf’s head figurehead. It stands on a terrace adorned with naturalistic waves. The quadrangular base with concave sides is decorated with applied motifs including palmettes, scrolls, and torches; its façade is embellished with an elaborate high-relief scene depicting rocks, a hut, and palm trees, among which three little boys dressed in loincloths are hunting, fishing, and resting with their dog. The oblong plinth rests on four flattened feet that are adorned with bead friezes and double zigzags framed by engine turning centered by cabochons.

    Exoticism became fashionable during the late 18th century, inspired by the philosophical writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who called for a return to Nature and exalted the virtues of the “noble savage”; it was conveyed by contemporary literature as well. Among the great literary successes of the time were “Paul et Virginie” written by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre in 1788; it echoed the well-known “Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe; the novel “Les Incas” by Marmontel, which was published during the American War of Independence; and “Atala” by Chateaubriand, which was published in 1801. These works profoundly changed Europeans’ attitudes toward other civilizations, plunging the Old World into a deep romantic nostalgia that was linked to the quest for a pagan Garden of Eden, regenerated and redeemed by Christianity.

    As was often the case in the French decorative arts, this current influenced artistic trends, and particularly horological creations. The model of the present clock was created within that particular context. Very likely an allegorical representation of the discovery of the New World, two versions of it were offered. The first one featured a figure who was sitting on a chariot; only a few such examples are known, including a clock that is today in the Musée du Nouveau Monde in La Rochelle. A second example is pictured in G. and A. Wannenes, Les plus belles pendules françaises, De Louis XIV à l’Empire, Florence, 2013, p. 315. Only a few examples are known of the second type, which is also that of the present clock. Two of them are in the Musée François Duesberg in Mons (illustrated in Musée François Duesberg, Arts décoratifs 1775-1825, Brussels, 2004, p. 59).

    Levol  -  Thomire
    Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1757-1843)

    Important and Rare Matte and Burnished and Patinated Gilt Bronze Mantel Clock based on the Novel “Paul et Virginie”

    “The Triumph of Virtue and Innocence”

    Pendule328-03_BD_MAIL

    “Levol à Paris”

    The Case Attributed to Pierre-Philippe Thomire

    Paris, Consulate period, circa 1800

    Height66 Width65.3 Depth15.8

    The round white enamel dial, signed “Levol à Paris”, indicates the Roman numeral hours and the Arabic fifteen-minute intervals by means of two pierced gilt bronze hands. It is housed in a magnificent neoclassical case featuring finely sculpted and chased figures made of patinated bronze and gilt bronze with matte and burnished finishing. The hour and half-hour striking movement is housed in a drum case whose bezel is adorned with bead friezes and alternating water leaf and reed friezes, surmounting a drapery with delicate rope fringe decorated with a latticework band. That case supports a magnificent sculptural group depicting two figures seated side by side: a young man and a young woman, the latter holding in her left hand a drapery that floats over their heads. This refers to an episode from the novel “Paul et Virginie” in which Virginie, having been caught in a sudden shower, uses a part of her dress to shield herself from the rain, raising it above her head and thereby also protecting Paul, who was with her. The figures’ attitudes and their way of looking at each other betray great affection. The group rests on a palanquin with stretchers in imitation bamboo, which are carried by two finely sculpted black men dressed in loincloths with a burnished and matte border. On the terrace stands a dog that raises its right front foot. The quadrangular base with slightly protruding corners is decorated with applied palm tree motifs; the façade is adorned with a reserve panel depicting a scene that takes place within a landscape, which relates to the adolescence of the two young people. The clock is raised upon four feet that are adorned with leaf friezes.

    Black figures were rarely used in French and European decorative horology before the late 18th century. It was not until the end of the Ancien Régime – precisely, the final decade of the 18th century and the early years of the following one – that the first clocks called “au nègre” or “au sauvage” appeared. That fashion resulted from a specific social and romantic context. In the late 18th century, writings such as those of Jean-Jacques Rousseau exalted the moral virtues of a return to nature, through the idea of the “noble savage”. The interest in exoticism was encouraged by contemporary literature. The great success of  “Paul et Virginie”, written by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre in 1788, an echo of the famous “Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe, the novel “Les Incas” by Marmontel, which had been published during the American Revolution, and “Atala” written by Chateaubriand in 1801, profoundly changed Europeans’ attitudes to other civilizations, plunging the Old World into a current of romantic nostalgia linked to the idea of a quest for a Pagan paradise, which would be given new life by Christianity. As has often been the case in the French decorative arts, these new ideas manifested themselves in artistic creations, often in the fields of horology and lighting. The present clock was created within that particular context. Its particularly elaborate design and the exceptional quality of its chasing and gilding, and the patina of the two young black men, are evidence that the bronzier was one of the finest then working in Paris; it must therefore be attributed to Pierre-Philippe Thomire.

    The composition was inspired by a less elaborate horological model depicting a sculptural group in which Paul and Virginie are carried on a stretcher held by two young black women. One such clock is in the Musée Duesberg in Mons (illustrated in the exhibition catalogue “De Noir et d’Or, Pendules ‘au bon sauvage’”, Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels, 1993). A second example is illustrated in P. Kjellberg, Encyclopédie de la pendule française du Moyen Age à nos jours, Paris, 1997, p. 344. One further such clock is illustrated in H. Ottomeyer and P. Pröschel, Vergoldete Bronzen, Die Bronzearbeiten des Spätbarock und Klassizismus, Band I, Munich, 1986, p. 379, fig. 5.15.20; that clock has been attributed to the Parisian bronzier Louis-Isidore Choiselat, known as Choiselat-Gallien (1784-1853). One of the finest bronze casters in Paris, Choiselat was a rival of Pierre-Philippe Thomire.

    Contemporary with the “aux porteuses” clocks, “aux porteurs noirs” clocks were much more elaborate and spectacular, due to their much larger size, as well as to their very unusual and perfectly balanced composition and the exceptional quality of their chasing and gilding. This model is also extremely rare; among the very small number of identical examples known, one that is attributed to Pierre-Philippe Thomire is today in the Musée François Duesberg in Mons (illustrated in Musée François Duesberg, Arts décoratifs 1775-1825, Brussels, 2004, p. 66). Tradition has it that the clock in the Musée Duesberg was ordered from Thomire in 1802 by the future Emperor Napoleon I, who intended to give it to Bernardin de Saint-Pierre. Napoleon, who admired the writer’s work, had particularly liked his novel “Paul et Virginie”.

    Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1757 - 1843)

    Pierre-Philippe Thomire was the most important Parisian bronzier of the last quarter of the 18th century and the first decades of the following century. Early on in his career he worked for Pierre Gouthière, ciseleur-fondeur du roi, and toward the mid-1770’s began working with Louis Prieur. He later became one of the bronziers attached to the Manufacture Royale de Sèvres, creating the bronze mounts for most of the important creations of the day. After the Revolution, he purchased the stock of Martin-Eloi Lignereux, thus becoming the most important suppliers of furniture bronzes for châteaux and Imperial Palaces. In addition, he worked for a wealthy private clientele, both French and foreign, including several of Napoleon’s Marshals. Thomire retired in 1823.



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