TEFAF Online 2021
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These three clocks – one elegantly adorned with Sèvres porcelain plaques and finely chased gilt bronze mounts, another a skeleton clocks whose remarkable and complex mechanism may be admired by the viewer, and the third with magnificent enamel dials painted with the signs of the zodiac – are all extremely rare and of exceptional quality. All three were made in Paris during the last two decades of the 18th century, when a favorable social and economic context allowed artists and artisans to freely exercise their creative powers. This was arguably the most inventive period in the European decorative arts. At the time, Paris was a centre of great artistic effervescence and the place where fashions and trends began. Most of the period’s greatest creative geniuses lived there, as did many influential collectors, some of whom were very close to the royal family. Queen Marie-Antoinette was an admirer of luxury horology. She owned a clock made by Robin and adorned with zodiac signs, which was similar to one of the clocks shown here. Her brother Maximilian of Hapsburg owned a clock by Sotiau that was embellished with Sèvres porcelain plaques; it was comparable to one of the present clocks and is today part of the Huntington Collection in San Marino, California.
The three clocks we have selected all display the immense talent of the artisans who made them. Their movements were conceived and executed by three of the most skillful Parisian clockmakers of the time – Renacle-Nicolas Sotiau, Laurent Ridel, and Robert Robin. Their gilt bronze cases were created by the finest bronze casters of the day, including Pierre-Philippe Thomire to whom we attribute the clock with glazed panels, a similar example of which belonged to Marie Antoinette. Their extraordinarily detailed and delicately executed enamel dials were painted by Joseph Coteau and Georges-Adrien Merlet, two of the most renowned enamellers of the final decades of the 18th century, who contributed greatly to the renown of contemporary Parisian horology. The work of these extraordinary artisans was coordinated by a marchand-mercier – that is, a dealer in luxury items – who supervised the creation of elaborate and exceptional pieces by the finest artisans of the day. One such marchand mercier was particularly influential during the final years of the Ancien Régime – Dominique Daguerre. Daguerre most likely supervised the creation of the Sotiau clock with Sèvres porcelain plaques, as well as that of the clock by Robin, with its twelve zodiac signs painted in shades of gray.
These three clocks are remarkable for their technical excellence – due to the skill and talent of their creators – for their harmonious design, and for the rare and precious materials they are made of. These combined factors make them veritable masterpieces of 18th century French decorative arts. It is impossible to imagine the Sotiau clock without its superb Sèvres porcelain plaques or the Ridel clock without its delicately enameled motifs. Neither can one imagine the clock by Robin with just a plain white dial. Any such modification would destroy the perfect harmony of these horological works of art. It is that harmony that draws the eye and fascinates viewers. Like the builders of cathedrals who obsessively pursued esthetic and technical perfection, the creators of the present clocks have provided us with three extraordinary examples of the finest in Parisian horology during the final quarter of the 18th century.