Pierre Kjellberg, "Encyclopédie de la Pendule Française du Moyen Age au XXe Siècle", 1997, p. 319, pl. B, illustrating an almost identical skeleton clock by Ridel à Paris in the Musée François-Duesberg, Mons, Belgium, with enamel work by Coteau likewise dated 1796 and also having an identical gilded frieze in the style of Clodion. Johann Willsberger, "Clocks and Watches, 600 Years of the World's Most Beautiful Timepieces", 1975, introductory page, illustrating another almost identical skeleton clock by Ridel à Paris.
An extremely beautiful and fine quality Directoire gilt bronze mounted enamel skeleton clock of eight day duration, signed on a white enamel cartouche below the main dial Ridel à Paris, with exquisite enamel work by the eminent artist Joseph Coteau signed and dated on the reverse of the lunar dial: Coteau 1796 and also signed and inscribed on the reverse of the plaque between the lunar and main dial: Coteau rue poupé N.7. quartr S. Ándré.
The elaborately polychrome decorated white enamel dial ring with Arabic numerals and rare outer Republican thirty day calendar ring, each numeral within a gilded circle interspersed by jewelled scrolls, with inner names of the twelve Republican months, with a fine pair of gilt brass hands to indicate the hours and minutes, the hour hand with a sunburst pointer and blued steel pointers for the calendar indications. The dial with cut-out centre to reveal the fully skeletonised movement with pin wheel escapement mounted on the backplate, striking on the hour and half hour on a single bell, with outside count wheel, with a very fine sunburst Medusa pendulum.
The main dial surmounted by a lunar dial with Arabic numerals for the 29 ½ days of the lunar month with a beautifully painted grisaille moon on a pale blue gold star studded ground decorated below with jewels and scrolls within shaped cartouches with gold beads on a dark blue ground, the main dial centred by a medallion with a bird flying above a sockle within an arbour, above an extremely finely painted plaque again with gilded beads on a dark blue ground centred by a jewelled sunflower amid scrolls, the main dial with ring of pendant beads above a further subsidiary dial ring with four beautifully painted cartouches enclosing flowers, birds and motifs associated with the four named seasons. The gold beaded dark blue enamel arched frame on white marble Doric columns on a rectangular white marble base with beaded border centred by a gilded frieze showing playing putti in the style of Clodion, supported on toupie feet
Paris, dated 1796
Height 50 cm, width 28 cm, depth 16 cm.
The importance of this clock not only rests upon its maker Laurent Ridel, whose work was always of the finest quality, as well as the fact that the dial shows rare Republican time but perhaps more importantly that the magnificent dials, plaques and case were executed by the esteemed enamellist Joseph Coteau (1740-1812). Originally from Geneva, Coteau worked primarily in Paris, where he was established in rue Poupé (sometimes recorded as Roupée), St. André des Arts and was received as a maître in 1778. In 1780 Coteau was appointed Peintre-émailleur du roi et de la Manufacture Royale de Sèvres Porcelain; for the next four years he did piece-work for Sèvres whilst also working independently in Paris as a flower painter, specialising in enamelling watchcases and clock dials. By 1784 his production was considerable and though he was in great command he fell out with Sèvres over payments and thus his contract was terminated. As an independent artist, he supplied dials, plaques and painted cases to the leading Parisian clockmakers including Robert Robin and Ferdinand Berthoud, both clockmakers to Louis XVI.
Coteau appears not to have enamelled watches or small scale pieces but tended to specialise in larger works which were technically more complex due to shrinkage during firing. A Sèvres document states that he and Parpette (who also worked at the factory) introduced jewelled enamelling (a technique that involved enamelled gold-leaf foils) to both soft and hard paste porcelain. Coteau also experimented with various polychromes, producing a blue, such as we see here, that was so rare and difficult to perfect that few of his contemporaries managed to copy. The enamel paint was applied with a brush onto a copper plate and then the various colours were vitrified one by one in the kiln. The decoration was then enhanced by gilding, which after firing resulted in a matt finish. This was then burnished to restore its metallic brightness.
Like Coteau, Ridel was an expert in his field, whose name is only associated with cases of the very highest quality. He used cases made by Lemoyne, Feuchères, Denière, Mathelin and Deverberie and had dials and enamel decoration executed by Coteau as well as Georges-Adrien Merlet. Ridel is also noted to have used springs made by Monginot l'Aîné. Although little of his early life is known, Ridel appears to have made his name before the Revolution since J-D Augarde notes that he supplied a cartel clock to Mesdames Victoire and Adelaïde at Bellevue before 1789 (no. 3748 in the sale of the Château). Ridel continued his success during the Directoire period and by 1800 was established at rue aux Ours, Paris. In addition to the other skeleton clock by Ridel in the Musée François-Duesberg, Mons, Belgium (cited above), the museum owns a 'Pendule L'Afrique' by him, while the Metropolitan Museum, New York owns another of his clocks.
JOSEPH COTEAU (1740-1801). FRENCH
Painted enamel and porcelain dials became increasingly popular during the reign of Louis XVI, reaching perfection in the hands of Joseph Coteau and Gobin Etienne (known as Dubuisson). Coteau was born in Geneva, Switzerland but is known to have practised his specialised craft in Paris. During his maturity he was established at Rue Toupee in the parish of Sant-Andre-des-Arts, where he remained until his death. At the age of 23 he produced the dial for a musical clock by Daille, horologer to Madame la Dauphine, 1763(Wallace Collection, London). Coteau attained such repute that he only ever supplied to the most eminent horologists, including Antide Janvier (1751-1835), Robert Robin (1742-1809) and Ferdinand Berthoud (1727-1807). He is also known to have decorated pieces of jewellery.
Coteau clock dials have a characteristic style, due as much to their superior quality as to their subject. His most distinct decoration consisted of delicate numerals with small garlands of flowers but more usually with signs of the zodiac, each element worked as an individual miniature. Other dials had little or no extra ornament except for the classical Louis XVI style numerals, such as his dial for the Avignon Clock, 1771 (Wallace Collection, London), with the movement by Delunesy and elaborate gilt bronze case sculptured by Louis-Simon Boizot (1743-1809) and executed by Pierre Gouthiere (1732-C.1812). At other times Coteau supplied decorative bands to accompany clock cases, such as an enamel frieze around a vase adorning one of Robert Robin's elaborate clocks, c.1780 (Wallace Collection, London). The band, painted in grisaille, depicts the seasons personified by infants playing and is interspersed by four cameo heads. A similar clock was supplied to Marie Antoinette for Chateau St. Cloud. Decorative dials and their accompanying complex quality movements fell in demand during the Revolution, however Coteau was patronised by the new government to create a number of Republican ten hour dials.
It appears that Coteau never enamelled watches or small scale pieces but specialised in larger works, which were technically more complex due to shrinkage during firing. The techniques required a high degree of skill to achieve a perfect finish. Coteau experimented with various polychromes, producing a blue that was so rare and complex that few if any of his contemporaries managed to copy. The enamel paint was applied with a brush onto a copper plate and the various colours vitrified one by one in a muffle kiln. The decoration was then enhanced by delicate gilding, which after firing resulted in a matt finish, the gilding was finally burnished to restore its metallic brightness.
Coteau dials are extremly rare, they are sometimes "secretly" inscribed on the reverse, in either pen or bruch. In addition to their scarcity and their supreme quality, his dials and enamel plaques only accompanied the most complex quality mechanisms. For these reasons his work is a tru prize and significantly enhances the value of any clock. Examples of his work can be found in a number of European museums, including Mobilier National, Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris; Carnavelet Museum, Dijon Museum, and in London at the Wallace Collection and Victoria and Albert Museum.
Copyright by Richard Redding , Zurich, all rights reserved.