André-Charles Boulle 1642-1732, Ebéniste, Ciseleur, Doreur et Sculpteur du Roi 1672-1732
Claude Du Grand Mesnil, (or Dugrand Mesnil, signed CDG Mesnil), maître in 1716, d.1782, recorded working Pont au Change, 1745-1759.
Collection of the Pons de Renneport family, Champagne
Marquise de Cabonnier, née Rennepont
Madame Ferdinand Riant, née Fleurieux
Comtesse de Chavagnac, Paris
The present clock is a type generally attributed to André-Charles Boulle and referred to as pendule aux harpies. It pre-dates 1700 having been mentioned in that year in the inventory of the clockmaker Louis Ourry (see, J. Nerée Ronfort, Andre-Charles Boulle in Vergoldete Bronzen, Munich, 1986, Vol. II, pp. 485-488). Whilst a number of comparable clocks have been recorded (listed below), only two other clocks combined with a pedestal are known: one was in the collection of the late Ogden Phipps, sold, Sotheby’s, New York, October 19, 2002, lot 85; and the second is in the collection of H.R.H. Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle (illustrated, Cedric Jagger, Royal Clocks, London 1983, p. 124, pl. 167). The Phipps clock is fitted with identical ormolu mounts, but with slight variations in the marquetry; the pedestal however has identical veneers and ormolu mounts. The clock at Windsor Castle, located in the Grand Corridor, has small differences in the ormolu mounts including a mount depicting the three Fates in place of the love trophy on the present lot, and the pedestal is fitted with a Bérainesque female mask instead of the mask of Bacchus on the present pedestal.
Whilst it is quite certain that Boulle produced some of the first models of this clock, it is also likely that various Parisian ébénistes, including Charles Cressent, (1685-1768) produced some later copies. During the lawsuit brought against Cressent in 1723, one of the witnesses, the founder Noël Brossart testified that he made for Cressent “plusieurs petites figures en termes qu’il appelle harpies et leurs suites […] pour orner des pendules”. The pedestal is more than likely the product of another, contemporary, Paris workshop since it is evident that the style of the marquetry and the gilt bronzes are not in Boulle style, but rather appear to be heavily influenced by the designs of Gilles-Marie Oppenord. It is entirely possible that these clocks and pedestals were combined and commercialized at the time by one of the Parisian dealers, possibly Noël Gérard. It is also possible that Boulle himself provided someone such as Gérard with clock cases for this purpose.
Another clock called pendule de Robert de Cotte, also attributed to Boulle by Ronfort, (op.cit. p. 489, pls. 17a, 17b, ) is fitted with an ormolu figure of Father Time identical to the figure on the present clock.
Examples of the pendule aux harpies are mentioned in the sale of the duc de Chabot on December 17, 1785, lot 376 (with the following comment: cette pendule de bonne forme et de bon gout dans sens ornemens, est considérée comme un des bon ouvrages de ce fameux ébéniste [Boulle]”), and in the sale of M. Coclers, February 29, 1789, lot 267. This clock was on a tall pedestal as noted:
“267 Une pendule en marqueterie sonnant les heures et les demies de forme cintrée et à quatre pilasters à consoles, à figures de femme ailées, terminée du haut par un balustre à dome à mosaïque, cassolette et autres ornemens, sur socle à avant-corps, et posée sur gaine aussi à panneaux de marqueterie, garnie de moulures à feuille, consoles, supportée par quatre boules, hauteur 7 pieds (2m.27) … 450l. Goman.” The aforementioned 'Goman' is presumably Madame Goman, a dealer recorded as the purchaser of the Louis XIV Boulle commode (Lot 33 in the present sale) sold in the sale of the collection of the Comte de Vaudreuil, November 26, 1787, lot 360.
The clock follows a design executed by Jean Bérain in the 1680’s and numerous examples have been recorded, each with some differences in the application of decorative details. Some are centered by a female mask designed by Bérain, as follows:
1.Sold from the Laura Collection (with movement by J.B. Baillon), Sotheby’s, Paris, June 27, 2001, lot 12, illustrated.
2. Sold from the Goncalvez Collection, Sotheby’s, Monaco, February 5, 1978, lot 68.
3. A third example was on the Paris art market, 1980.
4. Sold from the collections of Baron Alphonse and Baron Guy de Rothschild, (clock movement by Fs. Lebaigue), Sotheby’s, London, November 24, 1972, lot 3.
5. Anonymous sale, Christie’s, New York, May 19, 1988, lot 72, movement by Thuret.
6. Collection of H.R.H. Queen Elizabeth II, illustrated, Cedric Jagger, op. cit. p. 125, movement by Vulliamy.
7. A clock with slightly different decorative elements formerly in the collection of the 5th Earl of Rosebery, sold, Sotheby’s, Mentmore Towers, May 18, 1977, lot 15, resold, Christie's, London, June 13, 1991, lot 26.
It is also interesting to note the similarities with a terracotta model for a clock (circa 1700-1715) in the J. Paul Getty Museum, illustrated, G. Wilson, et al., European Clocks in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 1996, pp.14-19.
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