French Clocks – Science Keeping Time with Enlightenment Pt 2

Dieudonné Kinable (active 1780-1825) (clockmaker) Materials: Enamel, marble, gilt metal courtesy The Royal Collection Trust

Looking back from our own time in retrospect it is easy for us to think generally of English and French culture at the end of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as just a fabulous collection of wonderful objects in beautiful houses and sensational chateaux with glorious gardens.

And indeed it was all of that, but it was also much more. It was a time when science was busy keeping time with the ‘enlightenment, that philosophical movement whose ideas and values transformed our world from the eighteenth to the twentieth century.

One of the styles of clocks that emerged during the reign of France’s King Louis XVI (1638-1715) was a clock, where its works were on view. These are today known as ‘skeleton clocks’.

A mantel ‘skeleton’ clock with porcelain plaques by the Royal manufactory of Sèvres has applied gilt bronze ornaments and a dial enameled with signs of the Zodiac was made by French clockmaker Dieudonné Kinable (active 1780-1825) is rendered in gilded metal. It has also been enameled on the front in blue and white with spots, lozenges and pearlized dots, similar to that appeared for a short time on Sévres porcelain of the 1780’s.

It is very fine and is in the Royal Collection in England. The Horological Conservators have advised that the clock has been in the collection since the early 20th century and it has never been stripped so dates have not yet been attributed for its manufacture.

In its skeletal type case of gilded metal the clock has been enamelled on the front in blue and white with spots. Four lozenges are surmounted with pearlized dots and it is decorated with 2 grisaille (shades of grey) figures and the moon’s phases appear above the dial.

The enamel openwork dial has a chapter ring with the 12 hours and quarters represented by arabic numerals and the outer ring with the days of the month. The eight day locking plate striking mechanism has a going barrel movement and anchor recoil escapement.

Kinable was known to have been in business at the Palais Royal in Paris, which contained smart shops and café’s. He supplied movements for at least 21 clocks in Sevres cases between 1795-1806 and in this case, an enamelled dial made by Joseph Coteau (1740-1801) of whom we will hear more.

The neoclassical movement in architecture during the second half of the eighteenth century left a legacy, which designers ever since have found inspirational in the clarity, simplicity and spaciousness of its forms.

Neo-classicism was the culture of an age where men deliberately set out to rediscover the virtues of classical art and architecture.

Neo-classical design was not merely a pastiche of columns, capitals and pediments it was an all embracing movement covering all the arts, including music, architecture and design – all based on wide ranging archaeological and academic research.

The movement, whose main characteristic was symmetrical disposition of its form, grew gradually from the first half of the eighteenth century, embracing many disciplines and was seen in cities from St. Petersburg to Edinburgh, from Virginia to Versailles.

Probably Sèvres porcelain factory (porcelain manufacturer) Creation Date: circa 1815 Materials: Hard paste porcelain, beau bleu ground, gilt bronze, brass and enamel courtesy The Royal Collection Trust

Clocks of the period encompassing the second half of 18th century and early 19th century in France have not really been surpassed in terms of their visual aesthetics.

The vase clock, the urn clock, the temple, and lyre clock were all shapes popular during this time, the lyre becoming a favourite because of its association with music.

This stunning Louis XVI style ormolu-mounted Sevres blue porcelain Lyre clock was made by Dieudonné Kinable (active 1780-1825) with enamels probably by Servres. The clock has an outstanding provenance. It was purchased from the Parisian painter-cum-dealer Pierre-Joseph-Ignace Lafontaine, who had sent it on approval to George IV for his inspection.

Produced first in 1785 at the Sevres Manufactory, enamel colours included ancien bleu (turquoise) Rose Pompadour (pink), Verte (green) and gros blue (rich lapis blue).

The enamellng is by Étienne Gobin (known as Dubuisson) who had formerly worked a porcelain painter in Strasbourg and also at Chantilly.

He was also employed at Sèvres, where from 1756-9 he worked as a flower painter specializing in enamelling watchcases and clock dials. During the 1790’s he was recorded in Paris in the rue de la Huchette and later in c. 1812 at rue de la Calandre

The technique of enamelling takes patience and great skill to produce if it is to be a success. There are many different techniques that have been developed throughout the centuries in different cultures and countries.

It was entered by Benjamin Jutsham in the Carlton House receipts’ ledger on 12 October 1818: ‘[Received from] Custom House A Large Case Containing a Clock formed of Blue Seve Porcelaine in the Shape of a Lyre. Richly mounted with Or Molu in Leaves Sprigs &c, Apollo Head on the Top, a Gilt Beaded Circle in Front Moving with the Pendulum. Made by Kinable 1 Foot 11 Inches high, Stand & Glass Shade’.

It was cleaned by the British clockmaker Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy (1780-1854) in 1821 at a total cost of £2 9s. In an inventory of clocks and candelabra at Carlton House, drawn up c.1826, it was recorded in the Middle Room, Attic Floor and valued at £42. Delivered to Vulliamy on 21 July 1828, it was despatched by him to Windsor on 20 November 1828. Prior to its despatch, it was drawn for inclusion in George IV’s Pictorial Inventory.

Today it is still in The Royal Collection.

Louis XVI platinum, silver and gilt brass and gilt bronze great wheel multi-dial skeleton clock courtesy Richard Redding Antiques

A lot of scholarship has been happening now in the world of Horology since the late 1940’s because much evidence about its development was bombed out of existence during the two major world wars of the 20th century.

An extremely rare Louis XVI platinum, silver and gilt brass and gilt bronze great wheel multi-dial skeleton clock of one month duration, with day, date and lunar calendar has been attributed to esteemed French clockmaker Antide Janvier (1751-1835) by Swiss antiques dealer Robert Redding

Janvier earned his reputation for being a maker of ingenious and complicated clocks. Being appointed royal clockmaker did not save him from falling on hard times following the revolution because of that association.

In the antiques and art world when dealers and scholars ‘attribute’ it means they do not have unassailable proof, such as a receipt from the workshop or the signature of the worker. However having seen so many clocks Redding believes it must have close associations to the French royal household.

An attribution is based on similarities to other works of art that dealers do have documented provenance, or proof of ownership for, that can be traced all the way back to the time it was made.

Another pediment clock made at Paris c1790 has gilt bronze mounts attributed to François Rémond (1747–1812) who worked for the marchand mercier Dominique Daguerre and had associations with bronzer Pierre Gouthiére and furniture manufacturer David Roentgen (see Part 1).

Lenoble à Paris (dates unknown) Gilt-bronze mounts attributed to François Rémond (1747–1812) Pediment Clock Paris, c. 1790 Patinated and gilt bronze, glass - Horace Wood Brock Collection, on loan to The Frick Collection, New York

The two caryatids, just as their sculptural counterparts on the Acropolis at Athens, are supporting the weight of an architectural pediment.

The wonderful pendulum ends in the mask of Apollo, the Sun King.

The advance of what we recognize now as modern times really began with the invention of the pendulum in 1656. The adoption of the Pendulum clock irrevocably changed the way society operated throughout the western world.

Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) discovered the principle of the pendulum, although it was Dutch mathematician Christiaan Huygens (1629–1695) who invented the first version of a timepiece with a pendulum in 1656.

A year later, Salomon Coster in The Hague obtained exclusive patent rights for making Huygens’s pendulum clocks and the Fromanteels, a prominent family of London clockmakers, sent one of their sons John (1638–after 1682) to become a journeyman in Coster’s workshop.

Huygens published his idea for a precision pendulum in a small booklet titled Horologium in 1658 and by November of that year pendulum clocks were already on sale in London. He did not produce the full theory of the pendulum for the scientific world until 1673 – Horologium oscillatorium sive de moto pendulorum.

By that time English and French clockmakers were putting the pendulum to good use, permanently changing the technology of clocks and rhythm of life forever.

Today for dealers and scholars sorting out through the detritus of disinformation, dates and places where great objects were made in Paris during the revolutionary period can be a nightmare of contradictions in order to provide attribution.

Paris, France (the porcelain plaques were possibly made at the comte d'Artois' manufactory, Rue du Faubourg St Deni, made) Date: 1780-1785 (made) Artist/Maker: Robert Robin, born 1742 - died 1799 (clockmaker) Materials and Techniques: The dial appears to be made of enamel, not porcelain Bequeathed by John Jones courtesy V & A Museum, London

A carriage clock such as this one in the V & A at London was made in Paris during the early 1780’s. It was one of those items assembled by an exclusive band of Parisian merchants, the marchand Mercier.

Rear of Carriage clock - V & A Museum, London

He was a supplier of elegant furnishings, accessories and trifles to the aristocracy and nobles.

The Marchand Mercier, who displayed a finished product like this in his stylish emporium for sale, would have commissioned the various parts of the clock from separate manufacturers.

As all the processes took time to produce it translates that they were, and still are expensive items.

Legend says this delightful nine-inch high clock belonged to the ill-fated French Queen Marie Antoinette (1755 -1793) who along with her husband King Louis XVI (1754-1793) were considered to have had simple tastes, a fact recorded by the Baronne d’Oberkirch in 1782.

Louis XVI established a library and contented himself renewing paint, gilding, furniture and filling rooms with large quantities of Sèvres porcelain, which he loved. Marie Antoinette was know to have a passion for flowers, ribbons, drapery, and exquisite furniture, made by her favourite ébéniste, Jean-Henri Reisner (1734-1806).

Unlike other cabinetmakers of his age, he was not required in French law (since 1751) to sign his works for royalty.

Close up detail enamelled dial Carriage Clock V & A Museum

The attribution to the Queen is due to a flurry of royal fleur de Lys that are enamelled on the dial, as well as other factors. This includes the knowledge that it is believed to have been made at a manufactory on the Rue du Faubourg, which belonged to the Comte d’Artois the King’s brother

Now in the V & A Museum at London, the movement was made by Robert Robin, clockmaker by appointment to King Louis XVI, which is proclaimed on the inscribed dial and plaques

It is housed in a rectangular gilded brass case surmounted by a fold-down carrying ring and has a glazed dial door. The sides of the clock comprise what seem to be porcelain plaques with applied jewelled ornament in red, green and blue. The dial with similar decoration is enamel.

The name of the master enameller who made it was Swiss born Joseph Coteau (1740-1801) who was well known to have imitated porcelain plaques made at the royal ceramics manufactory of Sevres, where he had worked (1780-1784) prior to the French Revolution.

Coteau  and the other great enameller of his era Gobin Etienne, known as Dubuisson, who had also been a flower painter at Sevres, honed their technique of enamelling to such a fine a point many believed their plaques were porcelain, considered a more prestigious material at the time.

Superb enamelled dial by Joseph Coteau, Gilt-Bronze and Enamel Mantel Regulator Clock showing Mean and Solar Time, Bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey, 1999, courtesy Frick Collection, New York

Coteau worked primarily in Paris producing amazing clock dials, which he occasionally signed such as this dial that is on a gilt bronze and enamel mantel regulator clock in the Frick Collection in America. It is showing both Greenwich mean and solar time.

The clock’s movement was by: Robert Robin (1741 – 1799), its case by: Pierre-Philippe Thomire (attributed to) (1751 – 1843), the dial by Joseph Coteau (1740 – 1812) and the mainspring by: Claude Monginot (working 1784-1797)

Robert Robin (1741–1799), case attributed to Pierre–Philippe Thomire (1751–1843), enameler Joseph Coteau (1740–1812) mainspring by Claude Monginot (working 1784–1797), Gilt-Bronze and Enamel Mantel Regulator Clock Showing Mean and Solar Time, Paris, 1784, gilt brass, steel, polychrome enamel and gold on gilt brass and bronze courtesy Frick Collection, New York

Enamelling had been used in Byzantium and China for centuries for decoration on porcelain and this was copied by the Japanese at Imari on the ‘street of the coloured decorators.

Its brilliance of style and execution in any form has always amazed.

Joseph Coteau produced very refined enamelled clock and watch faces, collaborating with all the great makers of the period while he himself acted as a Marchand Mercier after the guilds were abolished in 1791.

Following the French Revolution a great number of laws and institutions associated with the monarchy were withdrawn.

One was the official hallmarking of objects of precious metal; the Assemblée Legislative cancelled the law on October 1st, 1791. After this enamellers were allowed to sell complete clocks without being required to include the name of the clockmaker. Also without official controls lower quality silver and gold began appearing on the market, so that master goldsmiths of the recognized guild introduced their own mark.

The King, Queen and many of their nobles losing their heads, would symbolize the changing mood of the time.

To be continued…

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2013

French Clocks:  Read Part 1 | Part 2| Part 3|

1 Comment

  • Very well done articles on French clocks, their makers and the artists that worked with them. Telling the story of the period in which they were created adds life to the clocks. I collect French and English antique clocks from the late 17th century to the late 19th century and found this to be very interesting reading with great photos.

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