‘The peak of opulent French clockmaking’

Clocks specialist Toby Woolley shares his delight in a selection of magnificent pieces from the Robert de Balkany: Rome & the Côte d’Azur auctions — on 22 and 23 March at Christie’s London

‘The great clocks are not put together in one workshop,’ explains Christie’s specialist Toby Woolley. The movement of the clock, the dial, the case and the ormolu mounts would very often be made in separate workshops. ‘This really is the peak of opulent French clockmaking,’ he remarks of the examples that are being offered in the collection of businessman Robert de Balkany.

Robert de Balkany was a passionate collector of European and English fine and decorative art, particularly clocks, silver, furniture and Old Masters. The works in the sale — on 22 and 23 March — come from two of his houses: Château Balsan on the French Riviera and Palazzo Lancellotti in Rome.

‘The clocks of the 18th century which predominantly feature in the collection are inspired by the designs of André-Charles Boulle, the greatest cabinetmaker and producer of works of art in the early 18th century,’ says Woolley.

‘This is a personal favourite,’ he says of the highly ornate Louis XVI mantel clock pictured below. ‘It includes everything: architecture, sculpture, fine metalwork and great materials. The ormolu case dresses the clock and draws the eye.’

 

The patinated bronze figures sitting on the top of this clock represent Night and Day, and are based on the marble figures executed by Michelangelo for the tomb of Giuliano de’Medici in the New Sacristy of San Lorenzo in Florence.

Woolley moves on to look at a very fine late-18th century French regulator clock (below left). ‘One of the most remarkable things about it is that the calendar dial has both French Revolutionary and Gregorian settings, which is something you only find at the end of the 18th century. The Revolutionary Calendar has 30 days in a month, and each day was broken down into 10 hours, each of 100 minutes.’

An Empire ormolu-mounted mahogany month-going striking longcase regulator with equation of time and Revolutionary and Gregorian calendars. The movement by Pierre-Basil Lepaute, the dial by Etienne Gobin, known as Dubuisson, c. 1800, the case adapted, the mounts later. Estimate £8,000-12,000. This clock is offered in Robert de Balkany Rome & the Côte d’Azur on 22 and 23

An Empire ormolu-mounted mahogany month-going striking longcase regulator with equation of time and Revolutionary and Gregorian calendars. The movement by Pierre-Basil Lepaute, the dial by Etienne Gobin, known as Dubuisson, c. 1800, the case adapted, the mounts later. Estimate: £8,000-12,000. This clock is offered in Robert de Balkany: Rome & the Côte d’Azur on 22 and 23 March at Christie’s London

A George I ormolu-mounted ebony quarter-repeating table clock, Claude Duchesne, London, early 18th century. Estimate £4,000-6,000. This clock is offered in Robert de Balkany Rome & the Côte d’Azur on 22 and 23 March at Christie’s London

A George I ormolu-mounted ebony quarter-repeating table clock, Claude Duchesne, London, early 18th century. Estimate: £4,000-6,000. This clock is offered in Robert de Balkany: Rome & the Côte d’Azur on 22 and 23 March at Christie’s London

Claude Du Chesne, or Duchesne, was a Parisian Huguenot who fled Paris, and is recorded working in London’s Soho district from around 1690. ‘He brought the French and Netherlandish style with him,’ explains Woolley. At the bottom of the dial on the ebonised table clock pictured above right is the figure of Father Time, and the signature plaque of the maker. ‘Somewhat curiously, it still has a French day-of-the-week plaque within the centre of the dial,’ the specialist notes.

A Napoleon III gilt-brass-mounted marble month-going table regulator. Paul Garnier, Paris, No. 8539, 1870. Estimate £8,000-12,000. This clock is offered in Robert de Balkany Rome & the Côte d’Azur on 22 and 23 March at Christie’s London

A Napoleon III gilt-brass-mounted marble month-going table regulator. Paul Garnier, Paris, No. 8539, 1870. Estimate: £8,000-12,000. This clock is offered in Robert de Balkany: Rome & the Côte d’Azur on 22 and 23 March at Christie’s London

‘A table regulator does not strike the hours; it’s all about the least amount of friction to keep the most accurate time,’ explains Woolley of the Napoleon III clock pictured above, made by the Parisian Paul Garnier. ‘It’s based on precision engineering, with as few wheels in the motion-work as possible. On the backplate you see — partly because it was considered a scientific step forward at the time — a type of grid-iron pendulum which Garnier reinvented in 1839.’