From a Château in the Auvergne.
An extremely rare and beautiful Louis XVI tricoloured gilt bronze, enamel and marble lyre clock of eight day duration by Jacques-Thomas Bréant with extremely fine enamel work by Joseph Coteau, signed on a dark blue enamel plaque with gilt bronze swags Jac Breant à Paris and on the white enamel dial ring Coteau, the dial ring with black Roman and Arabic numerals interspersed by gilt, green and red beads for the seconds and ribbon-tied crossed arrows, with a very fine pair of pierced gilt brass hands for the hours and minutes, the hour hand fleur-de-lis pointer cut off during the Revolution, with a blued steel pointer for the seconds.
With three subsidiary dials set into the pedestal below, showing at centre a lunar dial marked Phases de la Lune, with a grisaille moon against a blue sky surrounded above by the 29 ½ days of the lunar month, the lunar dial flanked to the left by a dial showing the 31 days of the month and to the right with the days and numbers of the week, each with a pierced gilt brass hand, the rectangular enamel dial surround with exquisitely gilt and polychrome painted floral wreaths with heart-shaped leaves, ribbon-tied arrows, jewelled beading and a satyr mask head above the two flanking dials. The main cut-out dial ring revealing the skeletonised movement with anchor escapement, striking on the hour and half hour, with outside count wheel, with special gearing for the lower subsidiary dials, powered by a rod from the main dial.
The beautiful lyre-shaped case with beaded gilt bronze borders and an applied gilded laurel wreath to the surround and the foot, with mock grid-iron rods to simulate the strings of a lyre, surmounted by a fine gilt bronze Apollo mask within a sunburst flanked by acanthus-wrapped rings from which suspend a fruiting vine swag, upon a white marble rectangular pedestal with rounded ends containing the three subsidiary dials with floral and foliate mounts to each end and twisted rope and beaded borders, resting on a shaped bleu turquin marble plinth mounted at either end by gilt bronze fruit and foliate filled white marble urns, set upon a shaped gilt bronze mounted mahogany base
Paris date 1775-80
Height 65, width 39, depth 15 cm.
Lyre clocks began to come into vogue during the 1760's as one of the many decorative features associated with the Antique and in turn the Neo-classical style. As here, all showed the clockmaker and case makers' skills to great advantage. A number of such cases were made by the Sèvres Royal Porcelain Factory, which as here were exquisite decorated. Yet this particular example differs from the rest in that it includes additional subsidiary dials below to reflect the clockmaker's infinite skill. In this it is unique and appears to have been made as a special commission as a love gift for a lady. However it can be loosely compared with a few known examples such as one with a movement by Lépine, which as here has exquisitely painted dials by Joseph Coteau (1740-1812), with two subsidiary dials flanking the main dial (illustrated in Pierre Kjellberg, "Encyclopédie de la Pendule Française du Moyen Age au XXe Siècle", 1997, p. 229).
The maker of the present work of art, Jacques-Thomas Bréant (1753-1807) is known to have made other lyre shaped clocks. His work can now be found in the Mobilier National Paris, the Musea Nacional de Arte Antigua in Lisbon, the Foundation Ephrussi de Rothschild and the Musée Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Bréant obviously delighted in ornate cases, which is reflected in the fact that he not only sold clocks and watches but also jewellery, snuffboxes and decorative objects in gilt bronze. Born in Paris, he became worked ouvrier libre before becoming a maître in 1783 at which date he was established at Enclos Saint-Martin-des-Champs opposite the Well (a reference he alluded to in a well-shaped clock flanked by Locré biscuit porcelain figures; illustrated in Jean-Dominique Augarde, "Les Ouvriers du Temps", 1996, p. 289). By 1783 he had a workshop rue Saint-Martin where he remained when he opened a shop at the Palais Royal in 1786 and later at rue du Temple in 1795.
Despite an esteemed client list that included the duc de Orléans, the marquis de Laval, de la Rochebrochard, d'Aulany and d'Amenoncour, the comtesses de Faudoas and de Vascoeil, the comte de Villefranche and Monsieurs Michau de Montaran and L'Espine de Granville, he nevertheless declared bankruptcy in 1786 and again in 1788. In 1788 his list of creditors included numerous case makers and enamellists. Among the fondeurs and ciseleurs were P. Viel, N. Florion, E. Blavet, A. Lemire, P. d'Ecosse and J. B. J. Zaccon; the doreurs were C. Galle, J. P. Carrangeot, L. Le Prince while the enamellists included Merlet, Bezelle, Barbichon and the very finest of them all Joseph Coteau, who was responsible for the present decoration.
Originally from Geneva, Coteau worked primarily in Paris, where he was established in rue Poupé, St. André des Arts and was received as a maître in 1778. In 1780 Coteau was appointed Peintre-émailleur du roi et de la Manufacture Royale de Sèvres Porcelain; for the next four years he did piece-work for Sèvres while also working independently in Paris as a flower painter, specialising in enamelling watchcases and clock dials. By 1784 his production was considerable and though he was in great command he fell out with Sèvres over payments and thus his contract was terminated. As an independent artist, he supplied dials, plaques and painted cases to the leading Parisian clockmakers including Robert Robin and Ferdinand Berthoud, both clockmakers to Louis XVI. Coteau does not appear to have enamelled watches or small scale pieces but tended to specialise in larger works which were technically more complex due to shrinkage during firing.
A Sèvres document states that he and Parpette (who also worked at the factory) introduced jewelled enamelling (a technique that involved enamelled gold-leaf foils) to both soft and hard paste porcelain. Coteau also experimented with various polychromes, producing a blue, such as we see on the plaque that was so rare and difficult to perfect that few of his contemporaries managed to copy. The enamel paint was applied with a brush onto a copper plate and then the various colours were vitrified one by one in the kiln. The decoration was then enhanced by gilding, which after firing resulted in a matt finish. This was then burnished to restore its metallic brightness.