The Grand Salon of Château de la Norville, Essonne, most probably during the last years of the Ancien Régime and then by descent.
Hans Ottomeyer and Peter Pröschel, "Vergoldete Bronzen", 1986, p. 193, pls. 3.11.4 and 6, respectively illustrating an identical pendule 'au lion' with case by François Vion circa 1770, signed on the dial Gudin à Paris, made for the Ministère d'Etat, now at the Ministry of Finance, Paris, and a design for this and the latter from an album in the Bibliothèque Doucet. Tardy, "Les Plus Belles Pendules Françaises", 1994, p. 17, illustrating a clock of the same model but with a patinated rather than gilded lion sold by Maître Ader in December 1967. Bruno Pons, "French Period Rooms, 1650-1800", 1995, p. 231. Pierre Kjellberg, "Encyclopédie de la Pendule Française du Moyen Age au XXe Siècle", 1997, p. 278, pl. E, illustrating an identical clock with movement by Jacques Panier and noting that other recorded clocks of the same design are signed by Baffert and Perret while another was once in the ancient collection of the vicomtesse Vigier. Elke Niehüser, "Die Französische Bronzeuhr", 1997, p. 239, pl. 848, illustrating a clock of the same model.
An important Louis XVI gilt bronze Pendule 'Au Lion' of eight day duration by Jean-Gabriel Imbert, housed in a case attributed to François Vion , the white enamel dial signed Imbert L'Aîné with Roman and Arabic numerals and a beautiful pair of pierced gilt brass hands for the hours and minutes. The movement with silk thread suspension, anchor escapement, striking on the hour and half hour on a single bell, with outside count wheel.
The gilt bronze case with the clock drum surmounted by a covered urn hung with a laurel swag and mounted on the back of a lion facing to the left with flowing mane and serpentine tail on a gilt plinth set into a shaped rectangular black marble base centred by a gilt bronze mounted ribbon-tied oak leaf spray flanked by rosettes
Paris, date circa 1770
Height 57 cm, width 38 cm, depth 23 cm.
The importance of this clock relies on a combination of its makers and its provenance. The movement was made by Jean-Gabriel Imbert, known as Imbert l'Aîné (1735-95) who was one of the very finest makers of his day. Examples from his outstanding oeuvre can now be seen at the Musée de Carnavalet in Paris, the Patrimonio Nacional in Spain, the Residenzmuseum in Munich and the Palazzo Reale in Turin.
Imbert l'Aîné was born in Devalon in the Bourgogne; in his youth he travelled to Paris, where he worked as a compagnon for his brother-in-law, Jean-Charles Olin (husband of Imbert's sister Anne). He worked firstly as an ouvrier-libre (i.e. a worker independent of a guild) before being received as a Parisian maître-horloger in 1776 and as testament to his standing among fellow colleagues was then appointed a deputé of his guild in 1780. Although four years later he was declared bankrupt, this did not prevent his continuation in business.
For many years his younger brother Jean Edme, known as Imbert le Jeune (1741-1808), who was never received as a maître, worked with him at his various addresses. By 1767 Imbert l'Aîné was established at Carrefour de la Roquette, by 1781 at rue Planche-Mibray, three years later at rue des Arcis and at the time of his death in June 1795 at rue de Monceau. As one of the best in his trade Imbert l'Aîné demanded equally fine suppliers, who included Humbert Droz of Switzerland from whom he acquired a number of watches. Richard and Gaspard Monginot supplied his springs while his enamel dials were generally made by Georges-Adrien Merlet, Elie Barbezat or Bezelle. Imbert's clock cases were made by a range of Parisian fondeurs in particular Robert and Jean-Baptiste Osmond, Nicolas Bonnet, Michel Poisson, Jean Goyer, René-François Morlay Léonard Mary and of course François Vion, while some were gilded by Le Cat and H. Martin. François Vion was one of the leading bronziers of his day who became a maître in 1764. Apart from a few decorative gilt bronze accessories, such as plinths for statuettes, he appears to have specialised in clock cases. As here, a number of these were supported by animals and in particular by a lion, such as the pendule 'au lion' made for the Ministère d'Etat. A number of his cases featured classical figures such as one representing the Three Graces housing a movement by Lepaute à Paris which was made for the comtesse du Barry at Château de Fontainebleau. (Musée du Louvre, Paris).
The Musée Municipal, Besançon also owns a clock housed in a case by Vion surmounted by Venus and putti after a design by E-M Falconet, while the Wrightsman Collection in the Metropolitan Museum, New York owns a biscuit porcelain figure of Cupid by Falconet placed on a gilt bronze base by Vion. Due to their superlative quality clocks by Imbert l'Aîné were acquired by the wealthiest ranks of society such as the marquis de Brunoy and the duc de Deux-Ponts.
It was therefore fitting that the present clock was once housed at Château de la Norville, near Arpajon, south of Paris in Essonne (formerly the Ille de France). Begun in 1739, the château was designed by Jean-Baptiste Leroux for François-Jules Duvaucel (1672-1739), trésorier général to Louis XV. At the time of Duvaucel's death the imposing castle was not yet finished nor furnished but in 1833 the clock was in the grand salon where it was described as 'une pendule en cuivre doré marquant heures et minutes, au nom d'Imbert à Paris, portée par un lion sur un socle de marbre [sic] noir avec ornements et cuivre..." The château no longer stands but once boasted the most magnificent art treasures including the original carved oak wall panelling or boiseries by Nicolas Pineau, which are now housed at the National Gallery of Art, Washington.