A highly important late 18th Century gilt bronze clock by Thomire
A highly important late Eighteenth Century gilt bronze and rouge griotte marble mantle clock of eight day duration, the superb case featuring ‘Le Char de Cérès’ by Pierre-Philippe Thomire, signed Thomire à Paris on the chariot. The white enamel dial with Arabic numerals and a pair of pierced gilt brass hands for the hours and minutes. The movement with anchor escapement, silk thread suspension, striking on the hour and half hour, with outside count wheel. The magnificent case with clock drum surmounted by a floral and foliate wreath placed upon the knee of Ceres who wears a castle-shaped crown and long flowing dress seated in her cushioned chariot, flanked behind by a seated putto holding corn sheaves and in front by a seated putto with a cornucopia waving a whip as he drives a pair of lions with lambrequin saddle cloths that pull Ceres’ chariot along, the whole on a stepped rectangular rouge griotte marble base with frieze mounted with dancing Bacchic revellers above a stiff leaf cast border on flattened bun feet
Paris, date circa 1799
Height 50 cm, length 60 cm, depth 20 cm.
Literature: Ernest Dumonthier, “Les Bronzes Mobilier National Pendules et Cartels Collection Publiée”, Paris undated, pl. 41, illustrating a comparable ‘Char de Quatre Saisons’ clock noting as being from a composition by Thomire Duterme et Cie (ht: 60 cm, length 73 cm, depth 25 cm) belonging to the Ministère des Affaires Etrangeres. J. Ramon Colon De Carvajal, “Catalogo De Relojes Del Patrimonio Nacional”, 1987, p. 183, cat. no. 163, illustrating a ‘Char de Quatre Saisons’ clock and p. 208, cat. no. 190, illustrating a very similar chariot clock with Ceres drawn by a pair of elephants. Tardy, “Les Plus Belles Pendules Françaises”, 1994, p. 276, illustrating the latter clock in the Spanish Royal Collection noted as being by P-P Thomire. Jean-Dominique Augarde, “Les Ouvriers du Temps”, 1996, p. 144, pl. 108, illustrating one of P-P Thomire’s ‘Le Char des Saisons’ clocks, now in the Marquis of Tavistock’s collection, Woburn Abbey, which was purchased from Martin-Eloi Lignereux by the 5th Duke of Bedford on 28th April 1803 for 4500 Francs.
This rare and magnificent clock case belongs to a series of chariot clocks made by the celebrated fondeur-ciseleur Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843). The closest comparison to it is an example in the Spanish Royal Collection, Madrid, which Tardy, op.cit, notes as being by Thomire; it features an identical figure of Ceres in her chariot and the same putti and Bacchic figures on the frieze but has three additional revellers to the right. The Spanish clock has other more obvious differences, one being that a pair of elephants pull Ceres’ chariot and that she has a globe on her knee, while the clock dial is formed from a single chariot wheel. The present work also relates to another clock case attributed to Thomire with movement by Laguesse that was supplied by the marchand-mercier Guillaume Culot on 8th October 1799 as part of a large consignment to Tsar Paul I to furnish his newly built palace of Saint-Michel, Saint Petersburg. Culot’s inventory records it as “caisse no 21, (41) no 29. 1 pendule, 27 à 28 pouces de long sur 21 de haut, représentant l’Agriculture, ou le char de Cérès, un laboureur brise la charue contre un rocher, Cérès sur son char trainé par deux boeufs, le tout sur une terrasse et socle riche, portés par deux panthères, placées sur le socle en marble d’Italie. 2025 [roubles]” (Iouna Zek, “Bronzes d’Ameublement et Meubles Français Achetés par Paul Ier pour le Château Saint-Michel de Saint-Pétersbourg en 1798-1799”, in “ Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire de l’Art Français”, 1994, pp. 143-5 and 166). While the latter was obviously not of the same design it was certainly of the same subject and assists in dating the present work.
Perhaps the best known comparison to the present work is Thomire’s pendule ‘Le char de Saisons’, featuring the four seasons personified seated in a chariot, which has an integral clock dial wheel and is drawn by a pair of lions and a winged putto. The latter patinated and gilt bronze was cast after a design by the sculptor Philippe-Laurent Roland (1746-1816), of which the terracotta model, now in a private collection is illustrated in Hans Ottomeyer and Peter Pröschel, “Vergoldete Bronzen”, 1986, p. 342, pl. 5.5.1. The first clock of this type, signed “F.C. Thomire. 1798. Paris” was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1798; it was subsequently sold by the marchand-mercier Barthélemy Defarge to Tsar Paul I on 17th February 1799 and is now in the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, (Iouna Zec, op.cit, illustrated p. 144, pl. 6 and described pp. 142 and 162). The Imperial Russian household also acquired two other ‘Quatre Saisons’ clocks, one through the dealer Xavier Labensky (now in the Hermitage Museum) and the other retailed by J. Mazeau (location unknown). While precise dating of the present work cannot be confirmed it is likely that it corresponds with the ‘Char de Cérès’ and the ‘Quatre Saisons’ clocks which, as noted, were supplied to the Imperial Russian family 1799, the latter having been first exhibited in 1798.
Thomire, the greatest craftsman of his age to work in gilt bronze produced a number of other chariot clocks of which his ‘Apollo clock’, representing Phaeton’s flight across the skies is one of his most celebrated works. Thomire produced two versions of the subject of which the earliest dates from the late 1790’s corresponding in date to the present work; one such example, now in the Hermitage Museum, was supplied by Labensky in October 1798 to Tsar Paul for Saint-Michel.
Like Thomire’s ‘Quatre Saisons’ clock the subject of the present clock relates to the notion of plenty. Ceres being the mythological goddess of agriculture who was especially associated with corn and as the personification of earth’s abundance is usually shown with corn as well as cornucopiae. The presence of Bacchus, god of wine also complements the idea of plenty and thus the frieze includes superbly executed Bacchic revellers dancing in line. According to mythology Ceres was the mother of Proserpine who was carried to the underworld by Pluto; Ceres searched everywhere for her daughter causing the earth to remain barren until her daughter was found. In art Ceres’ tireless search is sometimes represented as here by her riding on a chariot, though more usually this was pulled by dragons. Artists often portrayed her wearing a crown of corn but interestingly both here and on the comparable Royal Spanish clock her crown takes the form of a castle; though the meaning remains elusive the castle may indicate that the clocks were made for a Royal or Imperial residence.
By the late eighteenth century Thomire had achieved considerable renown, having enjoyed the patronage of Louis XVI. Thankfully this did not jeopardise his position during the Revolution since he prudently turned to the manufacture of arms and ammunition. After the reign of Terror he returned to making decorative bronzes and thereafter enjoyed the patronage of Napoleon and subsequently the restored Bourbon monarchy as well as foreign royalty and aristocracy. Born in Paris, he began his training under the sculptors Jean-Antoine Houdon and Augustin Pajou at the Académie St. Luc, Paris and then followed his father’s profession as a fondeur-ciseleur. His career was advanced when he studied under the great fondeur-doreur, Pierre Gouthière (1732-1813/14), from whom he acquired the most refined skills in chasing and gilding, in particular matt gilding ‘dorure au matt’, to produce a subtle grainy satin-like finish.
Appointed a maître-fondeur in 1772, he set up his own business in 1776 following his collaboration with Jean-Louis Prieur (b. 1732-6 d. 1795) in the decoration of the coronation coach for Louis XVI. Other royal commissions followed, for instance he supplied gilt bronze chenets with flaming urns and sphinxes for the Louvre in 1786. Two years later he supplied a fine fire grate and pair of columns to an English gentleman, (purchased in 1987 by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London). Having assisted in the making of the mounts for the Sèvres Grands Vases (Musée du Louvre, Paris and Pitti Palace Florence), in 1783 he succeeded Jean-Claude-Thomas Duplessis as chief supplier of mounts for Sèvres, which was an important post and assured Thomire’s future. Among work for Sèvres Thomire provided mounts for a number of porcelain clock cases, for instance one housing a movement by the royal clockmaker Robert Robin, 1788 (Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris).
His pre-Revolutionary success was somewhat eclipsed by his fame during the Empire; in 1806 he became the first bronzier to be awarded a gold medal at the Exposition des Produits de l’Industrie. He won another gold in 1809, in which year he was also appointed ciseleur de l’Empereur. In response to growing demand Thomire became an associate and then in 1804 purchased the extensive business owned by Martin-Eloi Lignereux, the famous marchand-mercier who had formerly been associated with Daguerre. Soon his newly named company Thomire-Duterme et Cie, was employing a work force of about 800; it had workshop at rue Boucherat and showroom at rue Taitbout, from where Thomire retailed a large range of decorative objects inspired by Antiquity such as grand candelabra supported by winged Victories, extravagant centrepieces, monumental Greek shaped urns and clock cases. While a substantial proportion of his work was commissioned by the Imperial household Thomire was involved in a number of collaborative projects for instance in 1811 he worked with the Imperial goldsmith, Jean-Baptiste-Claude Odiot (1763-1850) to make the cradle for the King of Rome after a design by Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (1758-1823) (Schatzkammer, Vienna) and also made bronze mounts for another Imperial cradle (Fontainebleau). He also provided a number of fine gilt bronze mounts to the leading ébénistes, such as Guillaume Benneman (maître 1785, d. 1811), Ferdinand Schwerdfeger (1734-1919) and particularly to Adam Weisweiler (1744-1820).
In addition to his celebrated chariot clocks Thomire is renowned for other figural clock cases. Some were directly inspired by famous Neo-classical sculptures or paintings, of which two famous examples in the British Royal Collection represent the ‘Oath of Horatii’ and ‘Rape of the Sabines’, both adapted from paintings by the leading Neo-classical master, Jacques-Louis David. Other of his clocks included the figure of Father Time, carrying the clock drum upon his shoulder (an examples of which was purchased by the Prince Regent later King George IV) as well as other mythological figures such as his ‘Psyche and Cupid Clock’ of which versions are housed at the Hermitage, Leningrad, the Spanish Royal Collection, Madrid and previously at the Richard Redding Gallery.
The main reason why many of Thomire’s Empire period clocks entered the British Royal Collection was that his business, like many Parisian trades encountered financial difficulties due the continuing wars. In order to avoid disaster Thomire was given a special dispensation to trade with the Prince Regent but despite this his firm is believed to have declared bankruptcy in 1813. Soon after 1815 the partnership with Duterme was dissolved and under its new style, Thomire et Cie thrived once more under the restored Bourbons. 1823 saw Thomire winning a gold medel for sculpture in Paris as well as his retirement from the firm though he continued to produce sculptures and regularly exhibited at the Paris Salon until 1834. His business was continued by his two sons-in-law up until 1852 though Thomire’s legacy has continued for much longer.print this page