3631
3631

PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN

A MAGNIFICENT SWISS ORMOLU, ENAMEL-MOUNTED AND PASTE-SET STRIKING AND MUSICAL 'DRESSING TABLE' PORTICO CLOCK
18TH CENTURY
Estimation
3 000 0004 000 000
ACCÉDER AU LOT
3631

PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN

A MAGNIFICENT SWISS ORMOLU, ENAMEL-MOUNTED AND PASTE-SET STRIKING AND MUSICAL 'DRESSING TABLE' PORTICO CLOCK
18TH CENTURY
Estimation
3 000 0004 000 000
ACCÉDER AU LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Important Chinese Art

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Hong Kong

A MAGNIFICENT SWISS ORMOLU, ENAMEL-MOUNTED AND PASTE-SET STRIKING AND MUSICAL 'DRESSING TABLE' PORTICO CLOCK
18TH CENTURY
of lavish portico design, the breakfront base resting on eight toupee feet and modelled with two drawers flanking a central guilloché panel decorated in gold, blue, green and red metal foils against a rich royal blue ground, depicting floral sprays flanking an oval medallion enclosing a vase of floral blooms, each front of the drawers with a red and white paste-set finial, all bordered with a beaded edge and resting on three further guilloché panels, the top of the base decorated with eight chain-linked neoclassical vases, surrounding a central replaced mount modelled as an eagle standing on rockwork in the form of a bear's head, flanked by a pair of columns and plinths similarly delicately decorated with guilloché panels and paste gems depicting florets and foliage, each column surmounted by an ormolu vase issuing paste-set silver floral sprigs and decorated on the exterior with upright lappets, flanking a similar central vessel with paste-set silver floral sprays resting on the clock, the dial with a red and white paste-set bezel over a white enamel dial with dot minute track, Roman hours and Arabic quarters, encircling the pierced hands, the music work in the centre of the base
61.5 cm, 24 1/8  in.
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Provenance

Collection of Nezu Museum, Tokyo.
Christie's Hong Kong, 27th May 2008, lot 1506.

Description

This magnificent automaton clock typifies the intriguing and inventive objects produced in Europe for the Eastern markets in the second half of the eighteenth century after about 1760. The Qianlong Emperor was an avid collector of timepieces and automatons and his enthusiasm for both European and Chinese-made clocks saw him assemble thousands of varying mesmerising and novel designs, which came to be known as ‘sing-songs’ since they were primarily valued as toys rather than fine timepieces.

While many of the clocks were badly damaged or destroyed during several turbulent periods in the history of China, the great variety of media employed for the manufacturing of clocks is well illustrated in the Palace Museum, Beijing, publication, The 200 Objects You Should Know. Timepieces, Beijing, 2007, including one of related architectural form surmounting a base comprised of drawers, pl. 93. It is interesting to note that the hawk and bear on the current clock, which form the rebus yingxiong (‘hero’) is clearly a Chinese addition, while the Palace piece has been ornamented in a Chinese style through the addition of the pineapples and the decorative seconds hand often found on Chinese clocks. The similarity of the two pieces, including the distinctly Swiss movements of the clock and enamelled columns, suggests they were created in the same workshop, inspired by a popular French model of the late Louis XVI period. They also include English design elements, such as the hands, and as Swiss retailers and craftsmen are known to have presided in the city it is not surprising to see both Swiss and English influences on a luxury item.

Clocks and novelty items had been popular in the Far East from a very early period so the influx of such items was not a newly acquired taste. Simon Harcourt-Smith who surveyed the clocks in the Imperial Palaces in the early 20th century produced an extraordinary account of these pieces that was published as A Catalogue of Various Clocks, Watches, Automata, and other Miscellaneous Objects of European Workmanship Dating from the XVIII and Early XIX Centuries, in the Palace Museum and the Wu Ying Tien, Peiping, Palace Museum, Peiping (Beijing), 1933. In the introduction to this now scarce source he writes in the introduction; "Taste for clocks and other curiosities of the West seems to have invaded the court of China at an early date; already at the beginning of the fourteenth century a French ironsmith, Guillaume Boucher, probably a prisoner brought back from some Mongol raid in Hungary, had constructed for the first Yuan Emperor of China an elaborate clock with fountains; and when in 1599, the great missionary Matteo Ricci arrived in Peking he secured Imperial favour and an entry to the Court largely by a gift of clocks. However, only at the end of the seventeenth century, in the reign of K'ang Hsi, clocks in large numbers began to invade the Palace". He further remarks that during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor "clocks and mechanical toys of beauty and ingenuity never before seen flowed into China from the West at the rate of thousands a year. In the Imperial Palaces at Peking, Yuan Ming Yuan and Jehol the passages of the hours was marked by a fluttering of enamelled wings, a gushing of glass fountains and a spinning of paste stars, while from a thousand concealed and whirring orchestras, the gavottes and minuets of London rose strangely into the Chinese air."

Important Chinese Art

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Hong Kong