J-B Diette, Paris.
Tardy, "Les Plus Belles Pendules Françaises", 1994, p. 84, illustrating this clock and noted as from the J-B Diette Collection.
Jean-Dominique Augarde, "Les Ouvriers du Temps", 1996, p. 103, pl. 66, illustrating a very similar but less ornamented skeleton clock enamelled by Coteau of circa 1794, of comparable dimensions and decorated with similar motifs, having a similar moon phase dial, very similar en grisaille medallions but featuring a Republican 30 day calendar ring and a subsidiary dial with Republican hours and minutes in the place of the Cupid and lion medallion and lacking the ornate gilt bronze mounts.
An important and rare late Louis XVI gilt bronze mounted polychrome enamel and white marble skeleton mantel clock of eight day duration, the beautiful enamelled decoration and dials by the pre-eminent enamellist Joseph Coteau, signed Coteau below the lunar dial. The pierced octagonal polychrome painted white enamel chapter ring with black Arabic numerals for the hours and minutes and outside calendar numerals 1-31 for the days of the month set within gilt lozenges interspersed by beaded decorations and foliate spandrels at each corner, with beautifully pierced gilt brass hands for the hours and minutes, the hour hand with a fleur-de-lis pointer and a blued steel sweep centre seconds hand and spiralled blued steel pointer for the calendar indications. The cut-out octagonal dial centre to reveal the skeletonised movement with rare balance wheel, pinwheel escapement, striking on the hour and half hour on a single bell with outside count wheel.
The main chapter ring surmounted by a subsidiary lunar dial inscribed with Arabic numerals for the 29 ½ days of the lunar month and a beautifully enamelled en grisaille moon set against a gold star studded dark blue ground. The finely gilt and polychrome painted blue enamel case frame surmounted by an celestial globe finial, flanked by a pair of cornucopiae issuing various objects symbolic of the arts, above a central medallion decorated en grisaille with Cupid astride a lion above a revolving silvered disk indicating the day of the week, flanked by simulated drapery and classically draped female figures above two further grisaille scenes portraying the infant Cupid with Venus, each supported on winged lion paw feet, the whole on a rectangular red marble plinth on circular feet
Paris, date circa 1785
Height 47 cm, width 26 cm, depth 9 cm.
In addition to the above, this clock can be compared to another slightly later work signed on the dial Bruel à Paris in the Musée Carnavalet, which has an additional Republican dial below the main dial (illustrated in Kristen Lippincott, "The Story of Time", exhibition catalogue, Greenwich Maritime Museum, December 1999-September 2000, p. 149, no. 168).
The intricate and high quality enamel decoration was by the esteemed enamellist Joseph Coteau (1740-1812), who is generally considered the finest enamel painter of his day. Originally from Geneva, Coteau worked primarily in Paris, where he was received as a maître in 1778. 1780 saw his appointment as Peintre-émailleur du roi et de la Manufacture Royale de Sèvres Porcelain; for the next four years he did piecework for Sèvres while also working independently in Paris as a flower painter, specialising in enamelling watchcases and clock dials. 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. While at Sèvres he discovered the art of 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 here, that was so rare and difficult to perfect that few of his contemporaries managed to copy.
JOSEPH COTEAU (1740-1812). FRENCH
Painted enamel and porcelain dials became increasingly popular during the reign of Louis XVI, reaching perfection in the hands of Joseph Coteau and Gobin Etienne (known as Dubuisson). Coteau was born in Geneva, Switzerland but is known to have practised his specialised craft in Paris. During his maturity he was established at Rue Toupee in the parish of Sant-Andre-des-Arts, where he remained until his death. At the age of 23 he produced the dial for a musical clock by Daille, horologer to Madame la Dauphine, 1763(Wallace Collection, London). Coteau attained such repute that he only ever supplied to the most eminent horologists, including Antide Janvier (1751-1835), Robert Robin (1742-1809) and Ferdinand Berthoud (1727-1807). He is also known to have decorated pieces of jewellery.
Coteau clock dials have a characteristic style, due as much to their superior quality as to their subject. His most distinct decoration consisted of delicate numerals with small garlands of flowers but more usually with signs of the zodiac, each element worked as an individual miniature. Other dials had little or no extra ornament except for the classical Louis XVI style numerals, such as his dial for the Avignon Clock, 1771 (Wallace Collection, London), with the movement by Delunesy and elaborate gilt bronze case sculptured by Louis-Simon Boizot (1743-1809) and executed by Pierre Gouthiere (1732-C.1812). At other times Coteau supplied decorative bands to accompany clock cases, such as an enamel frieze around a vase adorning one of Robert Robin's elaborate clocks, c.1780 (Wallace Collection, London). The band, painted in grisaille, depicts the seasons personified by infants playing and is interspersed by four cameo heads. A similar clock was supplied to Marie Antoinette for Chateau St. Cloud. Decorative dials and their accompanying complex quality movements fell in demand during the Revolution, however Coteau was patronised by the new government to create a number of Republican ten hour dials.
It appears that Coteau never enamelled watches or small scale pieces but specialised in larger works, which were technically more complex due to shrinkage during firing. The techniques required a high degree of skill to achieve a perfect finish. Coteau experimented with various polychromes, producing a blue that was so rare and complex that few if any of his contemporaries managed to copy. The enamel paint was applied with a brush onto a copper plate and the various colours vitrified one by one in a muffle kiln. The decoration was then enhanced by delicate gilding, which after firing resulted in a matt finish, the gilding was finally burnished to restore its metallic brightness.
Coteau dials are extremly rare, they are sometimes "secretly" inscribed on the reverse, in either pen or bruch. In addition to their scarcity and their supreme quality, his dials and enamel plaques only accompanied the most complex quality mechanisms. For these reasons his work is a tru prize and significantly enhances the value of any clock. Examples of his work can be found in a number of European museums, including Mobilier National, Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris; Carnavelet Museum, Dijon Museum, and in London at the Wallace Collection and Victoria and Albert Museum.
Copyright by Richard Redding , Zurich, all rights reserved.