A very fine Empire gilt bronze mantel clock of eight day duration signed on the white enamel dial Lesieur à Paris and on the movement Lesieur, housed in a magnificent case attributed to the Parisian bronzier Louis-Isidore Choiselat, known as Choiselat-Gallien, the dial with Roman numerals and blued steel Breguet-style hands for the hours and minutes. The movement with anchor escapement, silk thread suspension, striking on the hour and half hour, with outside count wheel. The case with dial and movement within a rectangular pedestal with an egg and dart cornice surmounted by a tazza with snake head handles, cast around its side with Vitruvian scroll and rosette borders above a fluted foot, the dial bezel mounted with the twelve signs of the zodiac, the bezel flanked by foliate spandrels in the upper corners of the pedestal and mounted below with a pair of crossed flaming torches, linked by a ribbon-tied foliate swag and centred by a lyre, the sides of the plinth mounted with the figure of Pallas Athena, seen from behind with her head in profile wearing diaphanous robes and a plumed helmet over her long flowing hair, her body entwined by a long snake that drinks from a dish held in her hand, the dial pedestal on a stepped square base with stiff leaf border, standing to the right of the pedestal is the figure of Flora represented as a beautiful classical maiden wearing a long diaphanous dress, a floral headband in her ringlet hair and holding a floral wreath in her left hand and a posy of flowers in the other, the figure and pedestal on a rectangular plinth with frieze decorated on the front with four lyres interspersed by three pairs of cornucopias and berried laurel leaf mounts enclosing at centre Cupid and to the right a female head wearing a helmet, probably Pallas Athena and to the left right a male head wearing a helmet, the frieze above an acanthus border on winged lion paw feet
Paris, date circa 1815
Height 85 cm.
While this beautiful clock case typifies the Empire style, the model appears to be unique and as such may have been made as a special commission. However, in terms of quality and design it compares very closely with a number of other examples by the esteemed bronzier Louis-Isidore Choiselat (1784-1853), known as Choiselat-Gallien. He not only made clocks for the Garde-Meuble and the comte d’Artois (later Charles X) but also often supplied cases to Lesieur à Paris (fl. 1790-1850), who made the movement for this clock. Choiselat-Gallien made a number of very fine clock cases, of which many, as here, featured the dial and movement set within a decorated pedestal, beside which stood one or two classical figures which, like the pedestal, were placed upon a rectangular base decorated with lavish mounts along its frieze. Among similar clocks one can cite another mantel clock signed on the dial “Choiselat-Gallien” and “Fab.t Bronzes de S.A.R Monsieur” housing a movement signed Lesieur which features two classical maidens standing either side of a pedestal surmounted by a bust of Herodote. Significantly the pose, dress and features of the right hand maiden on that clock is almost the same as our figure. Other clocks with movements by Lesieur and cases by Choiselat-Gallien include one featuring the figure of the muse Urania with a celestial globe surmounting the pedestal, another with Hannibal standing to the right of the pedestal, yet another with a male figure standing to left of the pedestal, holding a cornucopia and symbolising Abundance as well as one with the Muse Erato playing a lyre accompanied by a putto who are placed either side of a small dial plinth (illustrated in Hans Ottomeyer and Peter Pröschel, “Vergoldete Bronzen”, 1986, p. 379, pl. 5.15.18).
The main focus of this clock is the beautiful classical maiden who is abundantly adorned with flowers and for that reason almost certainly represents Flora, the ancient Roman goddess of flowers. According to mythology she was pursued by Zephyr, who married her and made her mistress of the flowers. It was told that she gave birth to Spring who was also portrayed in art with floral attributes and as one of the Four Seasons is represented on the bezel by the first three star signs between 12 and 3 o’clock, namely Aries the ram, Taurus the bull and Gemini the twins. Interestingly the twelve star signs are identical to those adorning the dial bezel of a cartel clock made by the esteemed firm of royal clockmakers Lepaute et Fils. The latter clock, previously with this gallery, is a more ornate version of two cartels du Congrès with stars instead of zodiac signs which were supplied to the Emperor Napoleon for the Grand Trianon, Versailles. In addition to the zodiac symbols the side of the present pedestal features Pallas Athena (also known as Minerva), patroness of institutions of learning and the arts, who was also identified as a war goddess, hence her distinctive plumed helmet. Antique sculptures often showed her with a snake, which here encircles her body. The same snake head, which here is a symbol of time, is again cleverly repeated as the tazza handles.
One of the leading Parisian bronze manufactures of its day, the firm of Choiselat-Gallien was founded by Louis-Isidore Choiselat, the son of a Parisian salt merchant. He was most probably apprenticed to or worked for the bronzier Jean-Baptiste Matthieu Gallien (b. 1753) for in 1812 he married Gallien’s daughter Ambroisine Marie (1794-1861) and then succeeded his father-in-law’s business at 93 rue de Verrerie in Paris. Louis-Isidore and Ambroisine had at least seven children among whom was Charles Choiselat (1815-58) who as a photographer, partnered his brother-in-law Ratel Stanislas, and took a number of portrait daguerreotypes including one of his father seated beside a globe, of which there is an example in the Musée d’Orsay Paris.
As a reflection of the firm’s standing, Choiselat-Gallien was appointed to the Garde-Meuble and, as many clock dials state, made bronzes for S.A.R. Monsieur, the comte d’Artois who was the brother of Louis XVI and was himself crowned King Charles X in 1825. Among many important commissions, Choiselat made the altarpieces for Charles X’s coronation in Reims and also in 1825 six sumptuous gilt bronze candelabra for the high altar in the church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris which were modelled on those he had made for the King’s coronation. Standing about 1.5 metres high, each candelabrum has vine leaves and foliate trails around its columnar stem and a tripod base decorated with angel heads above claw feet. Other more ornate candelabra by Choiselat-Gallien include two pairs with winged Victories, one with twelve-lights and the other with six, which are now in the Mobilier National, Paris. Both were delivered to the Garde-Meuble in 1821 and by 1824 were recorded as being in the service of the duchesse de Berry at the Palais des Tuileries (illustrated and discussed in Marie-France Dupuy-Baylet, “L’Heure, le Feu, la Lumière, les Bronzes du Mobilier National 1800-1870”, 2010, p. 258-259, cat. no.140 and p. 264, cat. no. 144). Other bronzes by Choiselat-Gallien in the Mobilier National include an ecclesiastical clock case with a kneeling figure and a cross mounted upon the pedestal dial which was shown at the Exposition des Produits de l’Industrie in 1823. His firm also made wall-lights such as one with a lion head backplate (illustrated in Ottomeyer and Pröschel, op. cit., p. 359, pl. 5.10.9). However today Choiselat-Gallien is best remembered for his fine quality clock cases, which in addition to those already mentioned includes a lyre-shaped clock in the Bavarian Palace collection, Munich (illustrated Ottomeyer and Pröschel, op. cit., p. 379, pl. 5.15.21). Choiselat-Gallien continued in business until he sold the concern in 1849 to the goldsmith Placide Poussielgue-Rusand (1824-89).
It is perhaps little surprise that Choiselat-Gallien and Lesieur often collaborated with one another since for many years they both worked in rue de la Verrerie. Tardy notes that by 1806 Lesieur was established at Vieille rue du Temple; during 1812-20 and 1830-50 he was at rue de la Verrerie and in 1840 at Boulevard St. Martin. Elsewhere in the Paris almanacs he is recorded at Bar-du-Bec in 1839 and in 1840 at rue des Alexiens. Unfortunately there are very few records concerning Lesieur’s life and career but it is possible that he was the clockmaker François-Eugène Lesieur whose inventory made on 29th August 1848 after his death at 43 rue de Romainville, Belleville, near Paris, is kept in the Archives Nationales. Despite the lack of primary information, we know that Lesieur was a highly respected Parisian clockmaker who was responsible for a number of complex and important clocks, counting among them a mantle clock showing signs of the zodiac with marble columns of 1807-8, in the Hôtel de l’Intendance de la Généralité de Metz, Moselle (originally the Préfecture de la Moselle et de la Région Lorraine). The latter was probably a pair to another identical clock by Lesieur in the Château de Nymphenburg in Bavaria. Lesieur also made the movements for a variety of other clocks, from a late Louis XVI Sèvres porcelain lyre clock to Empire figural clocks. Among them is one featuring Jason and the Golden Fleece which is housed at the Musée de la Malmaison in the appartements de Joséphine de Beauharnais. Lesieur also made a limited number of astronomical bureau clocks with dual dial plinths after a design by Percier and Fontaine. On another occasion, Lesieur together with G. Mayer provided the movements for an interesting pair of figural clocks featuring female and male classical warriors seated upon a canon, in which one with dial signed Lesieur à Paris, indicates the calendar indications and the other, signed G. Mayer à Chalon-sur-Saône, indicates the hours and minutes (illustrated in Pierre Kjellberg, “La Pendule Française du Moyen Age au XXe Siècle”, 1997, p. 410, pl. E). In addition to Choiselat-Gallien, Lesieur also used gilt bronze cases by Etienne Blavet, notably one portraying Achilles swearing to avenge Patroclus (illustrated in Jean-Dominique Augarde, “Les Ouvriers du Temps”, 1996, p. 141, pl. 101). In later career Lesieur was joined by at least one of his sons who, when working from rue de Rivoli, exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in 1855 and was described in the exhibition catalogue as Lesieur (Ant.-J-B) à Paris…Horlogerie de précision; regulateur à equation.”