Tardy, “Les Plus Belles Pendules Françaises”, 1994, p. 46, illustrating a case of the same model but with a rouge griotte marble base centred by a frieze of playful putti and differing position of the single dove with movement by Robert Robin and a dial decorated by Dubuisson, from the Fabius Frères Paris collection.
Jean-Dominique Augarde, “Les Ouvriers du Temps”, 1996, p. 286, pl. 219, illustrating a clock of identical design of circa 1785 from the Galerie Jean Gismondi collection, Paris, likewise signed Bourret Paria but with slightly different dial to include red lettering and red minute and 31 calendar indications.
Pierre Kjellberg, “Encyclopédie de la Pendule Française du Moyen Age au XXe Siècle”, 1997, p. 255, full colour plate, illustrating the same clock by Robert Robin as in Tardy.
Elke Niehüser, “Die Französische Bronzeuhr”, 1997, p. 206, pl. 183, illustrating an identical clock case model.
A rare and highly important late eighteenth century gilt bronze and white marble figural mantel clock of eight day duration, signed on the white enamel dial Bourret Paria, the dial with Arabic numerals for the hours and 15 minute intervals with 30 day outside calendar ring, with a beautiful pair of pierced gilt brass hands for the days and minutes and blued steel pointer for the days of the month. The movement with anchor escapement, silk thread suspension, striking on the hour and half hour on a single bell, with outside count wheel.
The magnificent and very finely chiselled and chased gilt bronze case most probably by the pre-eminent bronzier Pierre-Philippe Thomire surmounted by the busts of two embracing figures after the celebrated sculpture ‘Le Baiser Donné’ or ‘The Kiss’ by Jean-Antoine Houdon, set upon a plinth mounted by a dove above a further pair of love birds at its base, flanked either side by a pair of flaming urns with lion head handles issuing chained swags above tripod supports on lion paw feet, set upon a shaped platform with beaded frieze supported by beautiful classical sirens crouching either side of the dial set within a square plinth decorated at each corner with foliate spandrels, the whole upon a shaped and stepped acanthus cast plinth on a conformingly shaped white marble base with a pierced foliate frieze mount on turned feet
Paris, date circa 1785-95
This rare and remarkable clock belongs to a select group of the most beautiful eighteenth century clocks and demonstrates the extent that the Parisian bronziers went to achieve aesthetic perfection. Although a rare model, other examples are known to include an almost identical clock but with patinated rather than gilt bronze sirens also by Noël Bourret (b. circa 1755 d. 1803) which is housed in the Hermitage Museum Saint Petersburg.
The highly esteemed clockmaker Robert Robin (1741-99), who was appointed to King Louis XVI and his wife Marie-Antoinette but also later gained the titles Horloger de la République and Horloger du Directoirealso made at least one movement for a clock of the same model. Another clock with identical details was included in the Paris sale of Monsieur d’Espagnac or Monsieur Tricot (but most likely the former) on 22nd May 1793, lot 211, which may also have been the same as that which was later in the Stein collection, sold in Paris 1886.
Noël Bourret is known to have made several of these clocks dating from the late Louis XVI period up until the early years of the Directoire. A very fine and well respected clockmaker, he also created movements for a number of other clocks, the majority of which likewise boasted highly elaborate cases such as a Louis XVI example representing the procession of Bacchus as well as a Directoire skeleton clock with enamel work by the esteemed enamellist Joseph Coteau (illustrated respectively in Kjellberg, op. cit. pp. 243, pl. E and 319, pl. F).
Noël Bourret was a man of fine taste and entrepreneurial spirit who followed a fascinating career. Born in the south of France at Saint-André near Lodève, he was the son of Jean-André an innkeeper and Marguerite née Astic. Bourret was first recorded as working in Paris in 1785 as a compagnon clockmaker and then as a marchand horloger-bijoutier circa 1789. During a relatively short period 1790-1802 he was based at Palais Egalité, then the Tribunat (the former Palais Royal) where he continued to gain renown for his clocks as well as watches which numbered to at least 1395. Bourret enjoyed an international clientele that reached as far as Saint Petersburg, where in 1800 he sent 7400 francs worth of merchandise to Monsieur de Mirepoix; it is possible that included amongst that consignment was the identical clock now in the Hermitage Museum. Other of Bourret’s clients included the Revolutionary advocate Merlin de Thionville and Monsieur d’Espagnac.
In 1802 Bourret established a company that operated a ballroom in the Tivoli de la Folie Boutin gardens; these beautiful gardens had originally been owned by the Boutin family but were seized by the Revolutionary forces in 1794 and subsequently opened to the public the following year. At the end of 1802 Bourret handed over the management of the ballroom to his wife Marie née Berthelain (whom he had married in 1785) so that he could travel to Martinique to run a business dealing in tropical produces. However shortly after his arrival at the island he died at La Rivière Sallée on 30th August 1803.
Although the authorship of the bronzier responsible for the creation of this grand case is unrecorded, it was certainly made by one of the very finest Parisian fondeur-ciseleurs since the chiselling and chasing is of exceptional quality. As the 1700’s progressed so too did the quality of gilt bronze production improve to reach its apparent apogee during the later years of the eighteenth and early years of the nineteenth centuries. But despite the fact that there were many very fine bronziers working in Paris at this period, there few except for the pre-eminent fondeur-ciseleur Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843) who could achieve the overall finesse and fine detailing of such a complex piece as this. It is precisely for this reason that it is believed that Thomire was responsible for the present case, which can be compared in its complexity and quality with such pieces as his Cupid and Psyche clock or that portraying Pheaton’s flight across the heavens.
One of the most striking aspects of the present case is the surmounting sculptural group. This was derived from the celebrated sculpture by Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828), which shows a pair of lovers visibly bound together by a wreath of roses, the traditional flower of love and encompassing drapery under which the man appears to hold his love in a warm embrace. Further allusions to love are given by the accompanying doves or love birds as well as the flaming torches, symbols of enduring passion.
Houdon, one of the greatest French Neo-classical sculptors first conceived Le Baiser Donné in 1772 as a plaster for the Duke of Saxe-Gotha in Germany. Its popularity soon spread to France leading to numerous copies by both Houdon’s studio and by others; Houdon also produced a number of reduced versions in bronze. He also produced a companion piece known as Le Baiser Rendu 1778, of which there is a bronze version in the Wallace Collection London. In 1785 Houdon travelled to America to model a portrait of George Washington, taking with him a version of Le Baiser Donné which he hoped to market there. This however had little success as the group was considered too voluptuous but of course it was precisely for this reason that Le Baiser Donné continued to arouse such a passionate response. Its popularity has endured the centuries so much so that in 1991 the American artist Jeff Koons (b. 1955) created a modern interpretation of the subject entitled Bourgeois Bust - Jeff and Ilonaportraying himself with his ex-wife in a similar embrace. Certainly the history of the surmounting group as well as that of other near identical clocks but above all the sheer quality of the work itself that would explain why this clock has to be regarded as one of great importance.