Tardy, "Les Plus Belles Pendules Françaises", 1994, p. 140, illustrating a Robert Robin régulateur de chiminée or mantel regulator circa 1797 of almost identical design but housed in a completely plain mahogany case, from the collection of Dr. Mauss.
Jean-Dominique Augarde, "Les Ouvriers du Temps", 1996, p. 392, pl. 286, illustrating a Robert Robin régulateur de chiminée, housed in a very similar mahogany case, c. 1786-90, sold by Antiquorum, 14th November 1993, lot 112.
Derek Roberts, "Precision Pendulum Clocks", 2004, p. 32, pl. 26-6, illustrating the latter clock.
A rare and highly important Louis XVI gilt bronze mounted mahogany mantel regulator of month duration with equation of time by Robert Robin with a beautiful polychrome painted dial by Henri-François Dubuisson, housed in a case attributed to Jean-Ferdinand-Joseph Schwerdfeger, signed on the dial Robin aux Galeries du Louvre and also Dubuisson below 6 o’clock and further signed and dated on the backplate Robin Hger du Roy 1790. The dial with inner Roman and Arabic chapter rings for the hours and minutes with outer calendar rings marked with the names and numbers of the days in each month 10/20/30 or 31 and for February: 28, surrounded by exquisite polychrome painted vignettes representing the twelve signs of the zodiac set within gilt and beaded cartouches, each divided by delicately jewelled rosettes, with a very fine pair of pierced gilt brass hands for the mean hours and minutes and blued steel pointers for the solar minutes, the calendar indications and sweep centre seconds. The fusee movement with a single barrel, chain to the fusee, Graham anchor escapement and a nine-rod gridiron compensated pendulum above a massive bob. The rectangular case of architectural form with a pedimented top above four glazed sides, the top observation aperture with a plain brass frame, the hinged front door with foliate spandrels above the dial and pendant drapery below and a pearled bezel, with gilt bronze egg-and dart, acanthus and barley twist borders surrounding the base, pediment, front and sides, the stepped base on four gilt bronze block feet
Paris, dated 1790
Height 45 cm, width 26 cm, depth 21 cm.
When summarising Robert Robin’s (1741-99) “claims to fame”, Derek Roberts (ibid, p. 38) listed the first reason as “the way in which he collaborated with the finest artists and craftsmen of his time to produce works of great beauty which were impeccably finished.” This regulator epitomises that aspect since in addition to being a work of horological excellence, it is indeed a thing of beauty. The elegant mahogany case attributed to the ébéniste Jean-Ferdinand-Joseph Schwerdfeger (1734-1818) is of a restrained classical architectural design, which having glazed panels on all four sides and top, allows the viewer to admire the mechanism as well as the enamel dial with its beautifully painted signs of the zodiac. This was the work of Henri-François Dubuisson (sometimes referred to as Etienne Gobin; b. circa 1731 d. circa 1823), who was one of the finest enamellists of his day.
Robin created a series of precision regulators which were described then as a pendule quarrée en ordre d’architecture à panneaux de glace (square clock of architectural order with glass panels). All follow the same design as here, which he introduced in about 1780 and proved to be his most famous model. Most were housed in fire gilt cases attributed to Pierre-Philippe Thomire, counting among them one from 1784 with a similar dial as here by Joseph Coteau, now in the Frick Collection. Two examples, illustrated in Derek Roberts (ibid p. 31, pl. 26-5 and 26, 8A-J), are signed Robin Hger de Monsieur (Louis XVI’s brother, the comte d’Artois), while another example of 1778 has a beautiful Coteau dial and painted bob, once in The Time Museum (illustrated ibid p. 32, pl. 26-7A). Marie-Antoinette particularly admired mantel regulators of which seven out of nine with polychrome painted dials were made by Robert Robin. Whether any of those were housed in a mahogany case is unclear but certainly they were regarded as supreme luxury pieces, evidenced by the fact that in 1782 Robin sold a mahogany cased clock for 4,223 livres.
Robin was a brilliant horologist who made significantly advances in the quest for accurate time measurement. He was an ambitious man of great influence who achieved almost unrivalled success with a string of titles and important official posts to his name. Appointed to both Louis XV and Louis XVI as well as the latter’s wife and brother, his talents and the patronage of the royal family enabled him to count among his clientele the cream of the Parisian high society. Little is known of his early life but that he was born in Chauny, north east of Paris and in 1763 was appointed to Louis XV as Marchand-Horloger Privilégié du Roi. Having resigned from the post in 1765, he was received as a maître in 1767 by a decree exempting him from serving an apprenticeship. The most brilliant phase of his career began in 1778 when he was appointed Horloger du duc de Chartres and the Académie des Sciences approved two of his inventions. One was an astronomical clock, which the Menus Plaisirs acquired that year for Louis XVI.
Robin became famed for his mantle clocks, which featured astronomical indications and compensated pendulums among other complications. He also applied the same principal to regulators; among them was an early example that was acquired by the duc d’Aumont. Equally interested in watchmaking, from 1786 he used a special type of escapement, which he also incorporated into his monumental clocks, supplying for example those at the Grand Commune at Versailles in 1782 and at the Petit Trianon in 1785 – the year in which Louis XVI’s brother the comte d’Artois appointed him Horloger de Monsieur. Two years before, in 1783, he was appointed Valet de Chambre-Horloger Ordinaire du Roi and in 1786 was installed in lodgings in the Galeries du Louvre from where he was at the King’s disposal. Marie-Antoinette was so enchanted by his beautifully styled clocks that in 1786 she appointed him as her Valet de Chambre-Horloger Ordinaire du Reine with a salary of 400 livresand another 300 in bonuses. At least 23 clocks by Robin were listed in the 1793 inventory of her belongings while another ten were recorded as in the possession of the comte d’Artois. In addition to the ducs de Chartres and d’Aumont, other members of court and influential clients included the marquis de Courtanvaux, the maréchaux ducs de Duras and de Richelieu who acted as Premiers Gentilshommes de la Chambre as well as the marquis de Sérent, tutor to the ducs d’Angoulême and de Berry. After the overthrow of the monarchy, Robin was one of the first clockmakers to support the new Republican decimal time system introduced in November 1793. The following year saw his appointment as Horloger de la République, 1794 and then Horloger du Directoire in 1796.
In keeping with other of Robin’s fire gilt mantel regulators, this too has a polychrome dial to include a beautiful zodiac ring. The two greatest exponents of this art were Dubuisson and Coteau. Dubuisson, who was born in Lunéville, worked firstly as a porcelain painter in his hometown as well as in Strasbourg and Chantilly. Like Coteau, he was employed at Sèvres, where from 1756-9 he worked as a flower painter before specializing on his own account by supplying the finest enamelled watchcases and clock dials to the leading clockmakers of his day. Many were supplied to Robin, who still owed Dubuisson 725 francs on his death (as did the bronzier Claude Galle who on his death in 1815 owed Dubuisson 120 francs). In addition to them Dubuisson worked for other celebrated makers including Dieudonné Kinable, Jean-Simon Bourdier, Louis Berthoud, Pierre-Basile Lepaute and Antide Janvier. Received as a maître on July 16th, 1769, Dubuisson was recorded in the rue du Roule by 1772, rue de la Huchette by 1795, rue de la Barillerie in 1799 and then in 1812 in rue de la Calandre.
Like Dubuisson, the ébéniste Jean-Ferdinand-Joseph Schwerdfeger, was a highly respected maker. Of German origin, he was received as a Paris maître on 26th May 1786. Schwerdfeger made both furniture and clock cases. His most celebrated piece of furniture was the serre bijoux, commissioned in 1787 for Marie-Antoinette (now at Château de Versailles). Designed by Jean Démosthène Dugourc this jewellery cabinet is a highly elaborate piece adorned with Sèvres plaques and mounts by Thomire. In contrast, the majority of Schwerdfeger’s furniture was of sober design that relied upon the beauty of the mahogany, enhanced by restrained gilt bronze mounts. Likewise, his clock cases were of similar restrained architectural form of which there is a similar example by him reputedly in the Geneva Watch Museum. Many of his clock cases were supplied to Antide Janvier. An inventory made following the death of Janvier’s wife in 1803, listed eight clock cases by Schwerdfeger and then on the latter’s death in 1818, Janvier still owed him 150 francs. In addition to Janvier, Schwerdfeger also supplied clock cases to Jean-Simon Bourdier and of course Robert Robin.