There are many fine faces on the fabulous clocks in the David Roche Foundation Collection now on show at Fermoy House, North Adelaide, South Australia. None are more exciting than those confirming the tick-tock obsession the man himself had with time, and with his chosen clock’s decorative appeal.
David Roche’s collection of clocks are integral to a new exhibition Royal & Imperial Clocks: Romantic and Scientific created by David Roche Foundation inaugural Museum Director Martyn Cook and Curator Robert Reason, with some truly fabulous additions by some of David’s collector friends. It is now on show until August 19, 2018.
The clocks all gave David a great deal of satisfaction and he admired each and every one. Made from exotic materials such as Malachite or Lapis Lazuli, painted, gilded and carved timber, ‘jewelled’ porcelain with enamelled dials or covered with triumphant Roman ornament in ormolu, many of his favourite French clocks were made by foundeurs- ciseleurs.
They excelled in the 17th and 18th century in France, working in bronze to cast and chase the magnificent mounts which became so characteristic of fine French furniture.
One favourite is a Skeleton Mantel Clock dated 1796, whose top dial shows the phases of the moon. The central dial has a two train movement, with Arabic numerals, day and date, while the lowest dial shows the month and the season. The enamel painting below the dials portrays the Roman Goddess Diana and one of her handmaidens
The display presents antique clocks as objects of ‘beauty and brilliance’.
It is sure to ‘surprise and delight’ those who visit the decorative arts collection by well-known local identity David Roche AM, who actively pursued beauty, quirkiness and perfection in the world of antiques and art.
His magnificent clocks usually appear on mantelpieces and fine pieces of English or French furniture, scattered throughout the house and often flanked with gilded candelabra.
Mercury gilding was the most common in the eighteenth century, although it was banned eventually because of the high rate of death among the tradesmen who practiced its craft and a new method of production found after 1816.
The clocks from the collection have now been gathered together in Gallery 3 of the new wing of the house museum. They are a measure of David Roche’s trained eye, fine judgment and learned taste.
Some were made by makers whose works feature in the collections of the world’s premier palaces, decorative arts museums and private collections.
The exhibition includes a very interesting Shelton Floor-standing Regulator, which has been loaned by a collector friend.
It was made in Britain around 1760 by John Shelton (1712-1777), one of five astronomical clocks or regulators commissioned by the Royal Society of London. It is a particularly accurate long-case clock with a highly specialized dial.
Shelton’s regulators helped make history tick over at a particularly poignant moment in the discovery of the east coast of Australia by Lieutenant James Cook.
As the catalogue says:
The clocks told sidereal time – time measured by the stars rather than the sun, usually four minutes shorter than a solar day.
They were used to help observe the transits of Venus in 1761 and 1769.
The occasions when the planet Venus crossed the face of the sun were rare opportunities to calculate the mean distance between the sun and the earth, and thereby measure the size of the solar system.
Captain James Cook took one of the five Shelton regulators on board the Endeavour to observe the 1769 transit in Tahiti.
David Roche particularly loved clocks that took your breath away with their beauty, dazzled with the intricacies of their mechanical movements and the creativity and inventiveness displayed by clockmakers, through a time when men and women were busy questioning and seeking solutions to the challenges of their day.
Venus Hiding Time is the subject of a porcelain clock made in France ca.1813, the movement signed Adam Thomson (Britain ca.1850).
David loved the entire neoclassical era of 1760 – 1830 and he enjoyed the idea of ‘hiding time’ and it says in the catalogue,
… ‘it had many places to go in the house because it embraced all of the Greco-Roman ideals he admired, plus the lovely soft blue colour used in the French bedroom’.
The hard paste porcelain known as Nast, of which it is made, is today much sought after, the factory having been sold by the creator’s son’s after he had died in 1835.
‘… David had seen versions in museums in New York, Washington and Paris’
His favourite room in Fermoy House was the ‘green room’, dressed in silk. The ‘… mahogany pagoda case clock with delicate engraving and brass and niello inlays’ fits into this ‘den’, his haven of peace and quiet so well.
In the traditions of restrained Chinoiserie meets Gothic styles, it is unusual, made by the McCabe family of clockmakers who achieved some fame.
James McCabe (Jr) became esteemed for fine watches and clocks, many of which were exported into India. He came from a family of high quality watchmakers trading under that name c1760 to 1883.
Thought to have been born in Lurgan, Ireland, James McCabe (Snr) moved first to Belfast then to London in 1775, where he became a member of the Clockmakers Company until his death. He was succeeded by his sons who became skilled at making English Carriage Clocks in the nineteenth century; James, Robert and Thomas.
It was Robert who finally closed the business, declining all offers for purchase.
David Roche loved telling stories attached to those timepieces he admired, which were mostly made from the late seventeenth century, the majority through the age of Romantics and Revolutionaries, ending with the elegance and grace of the first ten years of the twentieth century.
The period doesn’t really have a start time or finish date, but it did come to a major climax towards the end of the eighteenth century in England and Europe, with the eruption of the French Revolution (1789-1799), which became a watershed for the advent of the modern age.
The Rearing Horse Mantel Clock ca.1830, often sat in the den as well, amidst a lot of equine objets d’art. It’s also a rare event, in that it still keeps time well, while many others have challenges due to the passing of time.
In every age and in every art form, good models give birth to ideas by exciting the imagination and this was an age when romance and science came together in an explosion of aesthetic beauty with clocks becoming treasured objects of desire.
Science and time coming together aided the advent of reason, as men and women helping to make the modern world, explored key ideas such as autonomy, universalism and progress, developing perspectives relative to their time.
Lavish ormolu mounts on a ‘Boulle’ style clock by Balthazar Martinot, clockmaker to Louis XIV and Queen Anne of Austria, is from a seventeenth century manufacturer. It celebrates the art of design and craftmanship.
It’s called ‘Boulle’ for French craftsman Andre Charles Boulle (1642-1732) who first used materials such as brass, inlaying it into tortoishell, setting a standard for other furniture makers of his age and trade, to emulate.
He used gilt-bronze mounts effectively, creating pieces of sculptural beauty that had foils of red, green and blue used as a background to the transparent Tortoiseshell.
Boulle techniques were known as premier partie – first part brass on a background of tortoiseshell, and contra-partie, first part tortoiseshell on a background of brass. It is one of two such very fine clocks in the collection.
The Prince of Hanover Urn Clock, made in 1810 by Louis Moinet (1768-1853) and Pierre-Phillipe Thomire (1751-1843) is a high point of the collection.
It is referred to affectionately as the ‘Gossip Clock’ with its well chiselled and sculpted bronze, neoclassic vase flanked by ormolu female figures reputedly ‘gossiping’.
Neoclassicism, the culture of an age where men deliberately set out to rediscover the virtues of ancient classical art and architecture and the style which became synomonous with men who were ‘rulers of taste’ was based on wide ranging archaeological and academic research.
For objects of desire this was marked by the presence of grace, lightness and humour with an affectionate attention to detail.
There are so many marvellous clocks in this exhibition that it is impossible to give a broader overview.
All I can do is urge a trip for locals and interstate visitors to the David Roche Foundation, North Adelaide.
International visitors will be no doubt be on a time schedule when they visit, but if they do, they will not be disappointed.
This collection is all about quality first and foremost.
David Roche had a fervent desire that everyone who visited his home would find something they loved among its many treasures.
The catalogue has been as lovingly crafted as the show has been, with a focus on fact, fabulousness and having fun, as he would have wanted.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle,
Royal & Imperial Clocks:
Romantic & Scientific
27 Feb – 19 Aug 2018
David Roche Foundation