The Mobilier National, purchased 9th March 1864 from Maître Charles Pillet for 1380 francs. Empress Eugénie, Villa Eugénie, Biarritz in the Petit Salon, numbered 2439, 1865. Empress Eugénie, Farnborough Hill, Farnborough, Hampshire. Sold Christie's London, 7th July 1927, lot 54, from the former collection of the Empress Eugénie at Farnborough Hill. The Bensimon Collection, sold Etude Couturier, Hôtel Drouot, 18-19th November 1981.
Pierre Kjellberg, "Encyclopédie de la Pendule Française du Moyen Age au XXe Siècle", 1997, 335, pl. F, illustrating a Directoire gilt bronze and white marble figural clock with a very similar dial by Merlet.
An important Louis XVI gilt bronze and white marble mantel clock with an astronomical movement of eight day duration signed on the dial G. Merlet for Georges-Adrien Merlet who executed the beautiful polychrome painted white enamel dial with black Roman numerals and outer calendar ring with Arabic numerals for the 31 days of the month, each within a painted a lozenge, the dial centred by a subsidiary enamelled lunar dial with a beautifully painted grisaille moon on a gold star-studded blue ground surrounded by the 29 ½ days of the lunar month, the dial with a very fine pair of pierced gilt brass hands for the hours and minutes and blued steel pointers for the seconds and calendar indications.
The superb case of rare design featuring the figure of Venus wearing only loose drapery over her lower half and across her shoulder, holding out her hand to Cupid, who standing to the right, offers her a floral spray, Venus seated in her chariot, cast to the front with a lion's head and drawn by a pair of doves, the chariot on billowing clouds that surround the dial, on a shaped and part-fluted stepped white marble base mounted with a pierced foliate scrolled frieze and decorated with borders of laurel, stiff-leaves and spirals on toupie feet
Paris, date circa 1780
Height 60 cm, width 55 cm.
An identical clock was in the collection of Monsieur de Rikoff, sold Etude Lair-Dubreuil, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 4 - 7th December 1907, lot 257. It can also be compared to another featuring Venus in her chariot, pulled by doves and accompanied by Cupid, fitted with a movement by Jean-Gabriel Imbert (1735-95), which is in the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art, New York. According to the description in the sale catalogue of 1864 it appears that the clock originally had an additional bleu turquin base. The beautiful dial was executed by Georges-Adrien Merlet (b. 1754 d. after 1812), who was with Joseph Coteau (1740-1801) and Etienne Gobin, known as Dubuisson (b. 1731 d. after 1815) one of the three leading painters of highly ornamented dials and enamelled clocks during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The son of a grocer, he worked in Paris and in 1812 was recorded in the rue des Lavandières Sainte-Opportune.
The fact that the Empress Eugénie (1826-1920), owned this clock and had it with her in France and England demonstrates its importance. Eugénie, who married Napoleon III (1808-73), was known for her beauty, elegance and fine taste as well as her admiration of Marie-Antoinette and the Louis XVI style. The clock was acquired when the newly built Villa Eugénie at Biarritz was being furnished. Built in 1854 by Louis-Augustus Couvrechef, architect to the crown and the Imperial domain and also by the architect Hippolyte Durand, the Villa Eugénie had a ground plan in the shape of an E in reference to Eugénie. It was the Imperial couple's summer residence where they entertained royalty, aristocracy and leading society figures. On the death of her husband in 1873, the Villa became the Empresses' property. Three years later she sold it to the Parisian Banque de l'Union. Firstly transformed into a hôtel-casino, in 1893 it became the luxury hotel Le Palais Biarritz, which can still be enjoyed today.
When the Second French Empire was overthrown after France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), Napoleon and Eugénie sought refuge in England, initially living in Kent. In 1885, having lost her husband and their only son, Napoleon Eugène (1879), she moved to Farnborough Hill, Hampshire - a vast property in which she lived until her death. She commissioned the French architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur (who worked for Rothschilds) to build a mausoleum in the grounds to house her husband and her son's ashes. Eugénie often entertained leading society figures there including Queen Victoria and other members of the royal family.