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    Sale 2608

    Magnificent Clocks for the Imperial Chinese Court from the Nezu Museum

    27 May 2008, Hong Kong

  • Lot 1513

    A CHINESE ORMOLU, ENAMEL AND PASTE-SET STRIKING, MUSICAL AND AUTOMATON 'TROPICAL LANDSCAPE' CLOCK

    Price Realised  

    A CHINESE ORMOLU, ENAMEL AND PASTE-SET STRIKING, MUSICAL AND AUTOMATON 'TROPICAL LANDSCAPE' CLOCK
    QING DYNASTY, LATE 19TH CENTURY, INCORPORATING EARLIER ELEMENTS

    CASE: modelled in three tiers;
    The base section of rectangular outline with canted angles, raised on an acanthus cast plinth moulding above elaborately cast foliate feet, the front and angles with panels of blue baisse-taille enamels, embellished with gilt, green and red enamels forming a floral-diaper ground, the front also with a glazed automaton scene within a paste-set border, the glass panel reverse-painted at the edges and also framed below by a cut out painted metal scene, depicting foliage and animals, with central mirror-backed automaton waterfall feature, the sides with florally-decorated blue enamel panels, the rear applied with stylised acorn and flowerhead mounts beside a painted metal panel depicting European figures in a landscape beside the sea, with paper inventory label above 12;
    The middle section bordered by an openwork gallery with two elongated knop finials to each angle, with lanceolate leaf-wrapped baluster vases to all four corners, each topped by a paste-set automaton whirligig, this section housing the clock above an automaton feature with four circular apertures and behind them four sets of automaton characters, reading auspicious phrases, also decorated with further panels of basse-taille enamel, the upper side panels glazed over painted metal panels depicting stylised European figures in harbour landscapes, with small urn finials to all angle and with plain glass door to the rear;
    The upper section also bordered by an openwork gallery and the four corners with vases and paste-set whirligigs matching those below, flanking a further drum-shaped section on spreading foot, decorated with panels of basse-taille enamel, the rear with a silk-backed panel of pierced ormolu leaves and flowerheads and the front with a mirror-backed two-tiered paste set automaton catherine-wheel, a further urn mount above topped by naturalistically-modelled and paste-set automaton flowerheads feature (see below);
    The case late 19th Century and incorporating probably late 18th Century enamels

    DIAL: with red and white paste gem set hinged bezel to convex glass, white enamel dial with Roman and Arabic chapters, centred by a pierced circlet mount, pierced ormolu hands with ormolu decorative seconds hand between them

    AUTOMATA: hourly, or at will by turning a paste-set knob to the left side base panel, the whirligigs all turn and the medallions at the front of the case revolve to reveal a line of four different auspicious phrases (see footnotes); above the catherine-wheel spins and at the top the mount turns whilst the flowerheads also revolve (formerly also with further automaton flowerhead to the top, now cased with a later gilt-metal sheath); all while music plays

    CLOCK MOVEMENT: English, late 18th Century and stamped for A & I THWAITES, numbered 534 with rectangular plates, the back plate with Chinese engraved border, rear-wound twin chain and fusees with knife-edge verge escapement, hour strike on bell, with hourly trip to;
    MUSICAL AUTOMATA MOVEMENT: probably Chinese, late 18th Century, housed in the base section, playing a selection of six tunes changed by a paste-set knob to the right side, via pin barrel with eight bells and ten hammers

    35½ in. (90 cm.) high x 16¼ in. (41 cm.) wide x 12¼ in. (31 cm.) deep


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    Thwaites (later Thwaites & Reed) supplied movements to many English clockmakers and probably exported them also. The Thwaites number on the movement suggests a possible date of circa 1771.

    The four sets of automaton characters read:

    Ruyue zhi heng
    Ruri zhi sheng
    Furu donghai
    Shoubi nanshan

    These phrases can be translated as:

    Having the constancy of the moon,
    Like the rising sun,
    May (your) fortune be as vast as the Eastern Sea,
    The longevity of the Southern Mountain.

    The first two lines are from the Shijing, 'Book of Odes', the earliest collection of Chinese poetry dating from the Western Zhou dynasty (1050-771 BC), referring to the 'three abundances and nine similitudes'. These are translated as 'May you be as the mountains and the hills, as the directions, having the constancy of the moon, like the rising sun, with the longevity of the Southern Mountain and the green luxuriance of the pine and bai (cypress)', cf. T. Tse Bartholomew, Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, 2006, p. 32. The last two lines are later deviations from the Book of Odes, and were popular auspcious phrases during the Qing dynasty.