Derek Roberts, "Continental and American Skeleton Clocks", 1989, p.15, pl. 1, illustrating a skeleton clock signed and dated Waltrin à Paris, 1781 on the movement, featuring a case of similar delicacy with openwork foliate gilt bronze mounts.
A rare and very beautiful Louis XVI gilt bronze, glass and white marble skeleton mantel clock, the circular glass dial with white painted outer Arabic numerals for the minutes and inner white painted Roman numerals for the hours and a very fine pair of pierced gilt brass hands. The glass dial allowing the viewer to see the movement contained within the dial drum. The movement with anchor escapement, silk thread suspension, striking on the hour and half hour on a single bell, with outside count wheel. The rectangular glazed case surmounted by an opaque glass bowl mounted above by a fluted and pierced ovolu frieze, supported on four legs with claw feet and hung with berried laurel leaf swags, with a foliate boss below the bowl, on a rectangular plinth with egg-and-dart border, the glazed case with bevelled gilt bronze mounts around its edges, the dial with a beaded bezel set into the glazed body, hung above by a ribbon-tie and adorned around the upper half of the dial with foliate and fruiting swags and similarly so on both of the glazed sides, with scrolled arabesques below the dial (that also cleverly support the dial and drum), the whole on a spreading rectangular gilt bronze plinth with a beaded border on a correspondingly shaped white marble base supported on four turned feet
Paris, date circa 1780
Height 41 cm, width 22 cm, depth 13 cm.
Skeleton clocks allow the ingenuity of the fine wheelwork and others parts of the movement to be more fully appreciated from the front, sides and back since the case and often the dial have been greatly minimalised, while in some instances the former has been reduced to an inverted Y-shaped frame. Skeleton clocks began to be introduced into France during the mid eighteenth century and thus predate those made in England by at least half a century. Their evolution coincided with an increasing number of high quality clockmakers all working in Paris such as Ferdinand Berthoud, the Lepautes and Le Roys, Lepine, Robert Robin, Antide Janvier and Abraham-Louis Breguet. All of them were of outstanding talent. In an endeavour to show their royal and aristocratic customers the internal beauty of their mechanical creations they began reducing the scale of the gilt bronze cases.
The present clock is a relatively early example and shows how the transition between the more typical rectangular mantle clock and the skeleton clock began. Although here the movement is still contained within the dial drum and the overall shape of the mantle clock case is retained, the dial has been made of clear glass so that one can admire the wheelwork behind. This feature is very rare since most skeleton clocks were fitted with an enamel dial that has been cut-out in the centre.
No expense has been spared in this clock's creation including the surmounting glass bowl, which like the rest of the case is offset against the delicate gilt bronze mounts. Few comparable examples exist, the closest being one by Waltrin à Paris of 1781, (illustrated in Derek Roberts, ibid) in which the light and airy case is formed from delicate traceries of gilt bronze foliage, scrolls, ribbon-ties, vases and other classical ornament. It can also be compared to other Louis XVI clocks, likewise with glazed rectangular gilt bronze cases, such as two with movements by Renacle-Nicolas Sotiau (1749-91) at Versailles, one being in Marie-Antoinette's Cabinet doré, and the other in the petite salle à manger in the Petit Trianon, which was believed to have been in the Council Chamber of Louis XVI at Saint-Cloud. As here both those by Sotiau feature the dial drum seemingly suspended within the delicate rectangular glazed case but it is in fact supported on a decorative gilt bronze mount; likewise, Sotiau's clocks are surmounted by a pierced balustrade and are set upon a stepped and gilt bronze mounted white marble base. Unlike them the present clock has a glazed dial but like them it would have been extremely expensive to make and thus would most probably have been commissioned by a member of the French royal court.