A superb and extremely rare Louis XVI figural two-toned gilt bronze and Carrara marble lyre clock of eight day duration signed on a blue enamel cartouche within the cut out dial CHL BERTRAND HORR DE L’AC E ROLE DES SCIENCES, the exceptional quality enamelled chapter ring and signed blue cartouche ornamented with red beads, gilded tassels and hanging bells attributed to the pre-eminent dial painter Joseph Coteau, encased in a lyre-shaped frame. The white enamel dial ring painted in red, blue, black, green and gold, with outside red Arabic minute numerals interspersed with blue beading for the seconds indications and gilded blue and red floral indications for the five minute intervals, with blue Roman numerals for the hours and inner polychrome blue calendar ring with raised pearl-like Arabic numerals within gilded lozenge-shaped cartouches for the 31 days of the month, with an exceptionally fine pair of pierced gilt brass lyre-shaped hands for the hours and minutes and delicate blued steel pointers for the days of the month and sweep centre seconds.
The free-swinging movement with mounted dial forming the pendulum bob suspended from nine bi-metallic pendulum rods, the dial with cut out centre to show the fully skeletonised movement revealed both back and front with pin-wheel escapement, knife edge suspension, striking on the hour and half hour on a single bell, with outside count wheel. The very beautiful two-toned gilt bronze case with cut out lyre-shaped frame ornamented with palm leaves and hanging bells surmounted by a Chinaman seated cross-legged beneath a parasol between a pair of pineapples and above the pendulum rods surmounted by hanging bells, the lyre-shaped frame supported on a white Carrara marble base ornamented with gilded classical hanging drapery, beaded borders and pineapples either side with a pierced gilt geometric frieze panel between exotic rosettes
Paris, date circa 1785
Height 61 cm, width 33 cm, depth 16 cm.
This remarkable clock was made by Joseph-Charles-Paul Bertrand, known as Charles Bertrand (1746-89). He was one of the leading Parisian clockmakers of his day who specialised in making a limited number of complex skeleton clocks and clocks with highly complicated movements. During his illustrious but relatively short career Bertrand made some very fine and rare works which are now prized among the world’s most prestigious collections including the Metropolitan Museum New York, the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore and the Musée National des Techniques in Paris. The complexity and ingenuity of the movement is matched by the beauty of the dial, which based on its quality of style and execution was almost certainly made by Joseph Coteau (1740-1801), arguably history’s finest dial painter. In addition the case is extraordinarily rare, to the extent that it can probably be considered unique and since no comparable case appears to exist it is likely that this piece was made to special order (which in itself was a very expensive business). The case itself offers a fascinating insight into the development and indeed synthesis of design at this period. The obvious Oriental motifs belong to the early to mid eighteenth century Rococo but are combined here with later eighteenth century Neo-classical motifs namely the lyre-shaped case and classical drapery. Thus one has within one unique piece a remarkable maker and movement, an outstanding dial painter all housed within a very individual gilded Oriental lyre case.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Charles Bertrand did not come from a clock or watchmaking family for his father Joseph was a headwaiter. Bertrand was born in Nettancourt near Châlons on 24th May 1746 and in 1761 at the age of 14 or just 15 he began an apprenticeship in Paris under Eustache-François Houblin (1722 d. after 1786). In 1770 Bertrand presented his chef d’oeuvre and the following year was received as a mâitre-horloger. Based on the obvious quality of his work he was appointed Horloger de l’Académie Royale des Sciences which, as here he proudly declared on a number of his clocks. In 1772 Bertrand married Marie-Française Perriard and in the same year established himself at rue Montmatre where he remained for the rest of his short life. Despite his esteem and prestigious client list that included the marquise de Lambertye and M. Aranc de Presles, Bertrand was declared bankrupt on 23rd November 1789 – the year in which he died.
He is known to have made both watches and clocks – from more simple mantle clocks and cartels to complex skeleton and lyre-shaped models, all of which featured exceptionally fine cases. His cases were supplied by some of the leading makers of his day notably Jean-Joseph de Saint-Germain (1719-91), François Vion (maître 1764, fl. 1764-c.1800), Jean-Nicolas Frémont, T. Thomas, Bécourt and Jean-Baptiste Zacon; some of his cases were gilded by N. F. Poisson. In addition Bertrand used marble cases sculptured by F. Cornière and is known to have used watchcases by Knab. His dials were of the finest quality and were supplied by Joseph Coteau, Edme-Portail Barbichon, Jean-François Borel and Jacques Anspach.
Joseph Coteau was with Dubuisson (b. 1731 d. after 1815) pre-eminent among painters of enamel dials and plaques. Coteau originated from Geneva but worked primarily worked in Paris, where he was received as a maître in 1778. From 1780-84 he was employed at the Sèvres royal porcelain factory, working as a flower painter, specialising in enamelling watch cases and clock dials. As an independent artist, Coteau also supplied intricate enamel dials, plaques and painted cases to the leading Parisian clockmakers such as Robert Robin and Ferdinand Berthoud, who were both clockmakers to King Louis XVI.
Coteau left Sèvres just before the royal porcelain factory began producing lyre shaped clocks in about 1785. The case shape however dates much earlier when in 1724 Jacques Thuret supplied a clock with a carved gilt wood lyre-shaped case to the Académie Française. However, it was not until the later part of the century that lyre clocks became really fashionable, as one of a number of decorative cases inspired by antiquity. Based on the musical instrument of the ancient Greeks, lyre clocks were not only made of porcelain, they were also enameled but were more usually made of gilded bronze. As one can see here they were ingeniously arranged so that the pendulum rods resembled the strings of the instrument and the dial, which was mounted upon the movement swung freely to act as the pendulum bob.
Although there were many variations of the basic design, later eighteenth century lyre clocks generally only incorporated classical motifs and ornaments such as laurel swags, eagles and sunburst Apollo masks. Here however the basic classical shape is richly ornamented with Oriental decorations, from the bells, pineapples, palm fronds and surmounting Oriental gentleman. The Chinaman himself beneath his tasseled parasol compares with figures made by the esteemed bronzier Jean-Joseph de Saint-Germain who is known to have supplied cases to Charles Bertrand. There are a selection of clock cases ‘aux Chinois’ by Saint-Germain and others illustrated in Pierre Kjellberg, “Encyclopédie de la Pendule Française du Moyen Age au XXe Siècle”, 1997, pp. 122-130; though none combine the light, delicate and exotic decorations of Orient with the symmetrical and restrained shape of the lyre and drapery inspired by classical antiquity.