A superb and extremely rare late Louis XVI gilt bronze mounted blue, gold and polychrome enamel astronomical skeleton clock of eight day duration signed in gold upon a blue enamel plaque above the pendulum Lamiral à Paris, the beautiful enamel case and dials by the eminent enamellist Joseph Coteau, signed Coteau INVtft immediately above the dial and also Coteau on the reverse of the enamel plaque depicting a putto, lamb and dog. The main dial with Roman and Arabic numerals for the hours and minutes and outside Arabic numerals 1-31 for the days of the month set within gilded lozenges interspersed by foliate and beaded decorations, with beautifully pierced gilt brass hands for the hours and minutes and a pair of blued steel pointers for the seconds and days of the month, with a cut-out dial centre to reveal the skeletonised movement with pin wheel escapement, knife edge suspension, striking on the hour and half hour on a single bell, with a free swinging Medusa head pendulum. The main dial surmounted by a subsidiary lunar dial with Arabic numerals for the 29 ½ days of the lunar month and a beautifully painted moon set against a gold star studded pale blue ground.
The fine blue enamel frame exquisitely painted overall with gold and polychrome foliate scrolls, the whole surmounted by an eagle with spread wings above thunderbolts and floral and foliate swags surrounding the lunar dial, above a lambrequin drape hung from a tassel hung pole, with further elaborate mounts below the main dial arch upon which is a circular polychrome enamel plaque painted with a winged Cupid holding wreaths above a lamb and a dog within a pastoral landscape, with two grisaille enamel plaques either side of the pendulum with paintings of a classical maiden with a youthful Cupid and flaming torch, supported on four pairs of toupie feet upon a shaped rectangular rouge marble base, the frieze centred by a blue enamel plaque with central foliate wrapped oval medallion depicting a dog and tree, the central plaque flanked by mounted rosettes above toupie feet
Paris, date circa 1790
Height 47.5 cm.
The enamel decoration, which is of the very highest standard and of exceptional intricacy, compares closely to other similar pieces by Joseph Coteau (1740-1812). Two very similar skeleton clocks both with equally fine enamel work by Coteau are illustrated in Jean-Dominique Augarde, in "Les Ouvriers du Temps", 1996, pp. 341-2, pls. 255 and 256, respectively having movements by Laurent and Kinable à Paris. Another very similar clock showing both decimal and duodecimal time, by Bruel à Paris, is in the Musée Carnavalet. Interestingly all three clocks feature similar grisaille enamels depicting scenes from the childhood of Cupid while the Kinable clock also includes the same dog and tree on the base frieze. Joseph Coteau ranks among history's very finest enamellists, whose work is always associated with the very best French clocks.
Originally from Geneva, Coteau worked primarily 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 watchcases and clock dials. As an independent artist, he supplied dials, plaques and painted cases to the leading Parisian clockmakers including Robert Robin and Ferdinand Berthoud. Though decorative the various animals and images all have symbolic meaning, firstly the clock is surmounted by an eagle and thunderbolts personifying Jupiter and symbolising power and victory. In contrast the dog symbolises faithfulness and the lamb patience and humility. The pendulum is formed as a Medusa head surrounded by a sunburst and was typical of the late Louis XVI period.
The movement was made by the firm of Lamiral, whose name, as Tardy notes, has been associated with Louis XVI clocks. However more is known of the firm after the Revolution; from 1806-1812 a pendulier of this name was based both at rue de la Vieille Monnaie and rue des Saints-Pères; while Lamiral à Paris was also based at Marché St-Jean 1815, rue des Mauvais Garçons 1817-20 and at Grenier St Lazare when listed as a debtor of the bronzier Gérard-Jean Galle (1788-1846).
JOSEPH COTEAU (1740-1812). 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.