Rectangular domed cage composed of pierced foliate panels, supported on four columns, canted corners mounted by urn finials, the lower portion applied with foliate motif openwork panels, supported on claw feet. The pierced dome decorated with lyre motif frieze, surmounted by matching urn-form finial
The base, centred by a 60mm silvered dial, Roman numerals, the engine-turned centre signed on a reserve Bautte & Moynier, applied musical trophies flank the dial, the side and back panels decorated en-suite with foliate decoration above egg and dart moulding, on decorated bun feet.
The automaton comprising two birds flanking a fountain surmounted by a butterfly, the birds swivel, flap their wings, tails, and open and close their beaks whilst seemingly flying from one perch to the other, the fountain with water simulated by seven twisted revolving glass rods, the rods capped by a gilt bronze bud surmounted by the realistically painted brass and steel butterfly, the wings move up and down and the body swivels.
The fusee movement contained within the base of the cage and utilising a conventional series of bellows, whistles and cams to simulate birdsong as well as providing automation via the columns and waterfall, the birdsongs may possibly be “Deux Serins des Canaries” or “Oiseaux Siffleurs”, “Sautants de Bâton en Baton” by Jean-David Maillardet (1748-1834) from La Chaux-de-Fonds.
The timepiece movement with verge escapement, fusee and chain, blued steel balance spring, plain balance, the movement attributed to l’Atelier des Courvoisier et Cie (active between 1811 and 1845) in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Triggering the music at the hour.
Activated on the hour or on demand, the cylinder musical box movement with fusee, 125mm pinned cylinder playing one of three airs on a one-piece comb stamped C.F Nardin, (Charles-Frédéric Nardin fl. 1806-1823 La Chaux-de-Fonds.) Among the three melodies, one has been identified as the aria No 2 "Der Jägerchor" (Le Chœur des Chasseurs), from the Freischütz opera in three acts (op. 77; 3e act, scene 3) by Carl Maria Von Weber (1786-1826), written in, 1820 and first performed in 1821.
The oval-shaped giltwood plinth (330 x 230 mm), recessed for a glass dome, (now missing).
The plinth fitted at the right with four levers for for the following:
- “Silence” that prevents the trigger of the music to the right, and to the left, allows the automatic trigger of the music at every hour;
- “Musique” triggering the music on demand;
- “Meme/Autre”, to repeat the same melody or change to the next melody;
- “Musique d'Oiseaux” activates the automaton features within the cage
Private collection, Switzerland.
Prohibitively high manufacturing costs made these objects extremely rare. The production of precious objects incorporating singing birds included a broad range from hanging cages, watches, snuffboxes, simple cages or table clocks. These pieces’ popularity appears to correlate with the expanding commercial relationship with the Chinese, Ottoman, and Russian markets, which blossomed towards the end of the eighteenth century.
The Jaquet-Droz were first to create singing birds cages. Their work used small organs to produce the bird sound, which was clever, but made the birds bulky. With the introduction of the sliding piston in the late 18th century, singing birds could be reduced in size to fit into a pocket watch. The next generation produced singing birds in an extremely small quantity, and they were considered the ultimate in luxury. Many were built with watch movements by Piguet & Meylan, and singing birds by Freres Rochats. These objects could also be paired with music other than the birds’ songs. Mechanical music production was at its height, with unrivaled musical steel combs.
The rarity of these objects with one or more singing birds is exemplified by the fact that they are illustrated in numerous publications. The rarest pieces today are often part of museum collections. The numbers of privately held pieces have diminished and thus their public appearance generates tremendous interest among private institutions and discerning collectors. What further distinguishes the present example is its inclusion of an automated butterfly. Maillardet’s inventory notes two large double bird cage clocks with automaton butterflies. It is thought that only one other double bird cage clock with automaton butterfly is currently known.
Each piece, such as the present one, was the collaboration of several crafts and included the finest makers of the day. The completed piece was then delivered to the seller, in this case, Bautte & Moynier. For example whilst the music is the work of Charles Nardin, it likely that the cage is the work of Courvoisier et Cie, active in La Chaux-de-Fonds between 1811 and 1845.
A small number of cages by this maker is known, each different, but with similar characteristics to the present piece, including the cage decoration and the use of fusee to drive the bird work.
The singing bird mechanism, which allows them to jump from branch to branch, can be attributed to Jean-David Maillardet who qualified in 1777 as an “expert engineer in horology and clock making”.
Jean-David Maillardet, expert clock maker and automaton maker, worked for some time at the horological manufactuerers in Berlin, and then settled in Fontaines in the Val-de-Ruz. He worked closely over many years with Robert et Courvoisier and with Jaquet-Droz.
Recognizing Jean-David Maillardet’s immense talent, in 1783 Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz gave the skilled mechanic les gros rouages – a significant part of the factory – along with a personal residence. Furthermore he provided him with a full-time writer and designer, which enabled Maillardet to build his own automata. Reports from several exhibitions (1804 and 1809) mention the bird cages built by Maillardet featuring “two canaries”, “hopping from branch to branch”.
He was, to our knowledge, the only craftsman creating this type of mechanism during this period.
The firm of Bautte & Moynier, at 61, rue du Rhône were registered in Geneva as working from 1824-1831. Charles F. Bautte was recognized for his quality creations of watches and jewels, and his reputation was outstanding. He is cited in writings by Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850), Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870), and John Ruskin (1819-1900) were among his clients in Geneva in 1834.
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Essai sur l’industrie qui est exercée dans les Montagnes du Canton de Neuchâtel, travail de Phiné Perret-Jeanneret, présenté en 1823 à la Société d’Emulation patriotique.
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Jaquet, Eugène, Le Cabinotier Jean-François Bautte, Rénovateur de la "Fabrique" Genevoise," in Revue Internationale d'Horlogerie, No 51, 1950,
Jaquet, Eugène, & Chapuis, Alfred (avec la collaboration de Berner, G. Albert), Histoire et technique de la montre suisse de ses origines à nos jours, Bâle et Olten, Editions Urs Graf, 1945.
Jaquet, Eugène, Le Musée d’Horlogerie de Genève, Union des Fabricants d’Horlogerie de Genève et Vaud, Genève, 1952.
Patrizzi, Osvaldo, Dictionnaire des Horlogers Genevois, la “Fabrique” et les Arts Annexes, du XVIe Siècle à nos Jours, Antiquorum Editions, Genève, 1998.
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