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    Sale 2608

    Magnificent Clocks for the Imperial Chinese Court from the Nezu Museum

    27 May 2008, Hong Kong

  • Lot 1506


    Price Realised  


    GEORGE III PERIOD (1760-1820), LATE 18th CENTURY

    CASE: of portico design, with eight toupee feet supporting a breakfront base centred by a guilloché enamel panel, delicately decorated with metal foils of gold, green, blue and red on a Royal blue ground to depict an urn of flowers within an oval medallion framed by floral swags on either side, flanked on either side by two smaller rectangular panels forming the fronts to drawers, each set with a red and white paste-set knob, with three further guilloché enamel panels below, a tilting toilet mirror rising (manually) from the case behind the large central panel, the sides applied with musical trophy mounts and with conforming mount to the rear, flanked by flowerhead bosses, the sides and rear with later Vitruvian scroll mounts in place of the lower enamel panels on the front, all the panels and both drawers within beaded frames, the platform of the base with matted decoration and with silk-backed piercings for releasing the sound, the borders with eight evenly spaced neo-classical vases with chain-links between them, the centre with replaced mount in the form of an eagle with displayed wings standing on rockwork modelled with a bear's head (see footnote), the columns resting on D-ended plinths, with volute lower sections and embellished with panels of guilloché enamel in red and blue and further decorated with red and gold foils and white enamel jewels, their reverses plain except for flowerhead bosses, each column adorned with paste gems in the form of leaves and joined by paste-set floral swags, each also surmounted by an ormolu vase clasped with enamel lanceolate leaves and issuing paste-set silver floral sprays, the drum-shaped clock-case crowned with a two-handled urn accommodating three paste-set silver floral sprays, its rear door pierced and with silk backing

    DIAL: with red and white paste-set bezel to deep convex glass, over white enamel dial with dot minute track, Roman hours and Arabic quarters, the circlet-pierced ormolu hands with diamond-shaped tips

    MOVEMENT: with circular plates joined by four cylindrical pillars, rear wind for twin chain and fusees, anchor escapement with spring-suspended pendulum, hour rack strike on replaced bell

    MUSIC WORK: housed in the centre of the base section, with replaced Swiss pinned barrel pull-wound via a cord issuing to the rear of the case, set off by a release button to the front of the case, playing a single tune; formerly with hourly trip from the movement

    24¼ in. (61.5 cm.) high x 13 in. (33 cm.) wide x 6 in. (15.2 cm.) deep

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    Liao Pin ed., Clocks and Watches of the Qing Dynasty, From the Collection in the Forbidden City, Beijing, 2002
    Roger Smith, 'The Swiss Connection, International Networks in some Eighteenth-Century Luxury Trades', Journal of Design History, 2004, Vol.17, No.2, pp.123-139
    Tardy, French Clocks The World Over Part II: From Louis XVI style to Louis XVIII-Charles X Period, Paris, 1981

    A musical 'portico' clock of closely related design may be seen in the Palace Museum in Beijing (see Liao Pin, p.106). That example, along with many others in the Imperial collection, is apparently signed by Timothy Williamson, a luxury goods retailer working at the end of the 18th Century. It differs from the present clock in a number of ways, including the addition of an automaton figure striking a bell above the main drum case and also in having automaton figures below the case. The replacement hawk and rockwork mount on the present clock has therefore most likely supplanted an automaton figure (probably a bird) or figures of some kind. This mount is clearly a Chinese addition, as discussed by Gu Fuxiang in the introduction to this catalogue; the hawk and bear form the Chinese rebus for ying xiong, meaning hero. Interestingly, the clock in Beijing is more distinctly ornamented in the 'Chinese taste'. For example, the floral sprays on the top of this clock are replaced by paste-set pineapples on the Beijing clock. The Beijing clock dial also has the decorative seconds hand so often found on Chinese market clocks. In design, however, the two are fundamentally the same and in particular the enamel-decorated columns are almost identical. It seems highly likely therefore that both came out of the same workshop. The portico design shows the influence of a popular French model of the late Louis XVI period (see Tardy, pp.63-70). Generally, French 'portico' clocks are not embellished with enamel panels, although French skeleton clocks of this period are (op.cit, p.84). The movement is distinctly Swiss in manufacture and the fine enamels are typical of those being made by Swiss craftsmen. The dial, with its dot minute track, could easily be English or Swiss but the hands owe much to English design of the late 18th/early 19th Century period. Likewise, the finishing of the ormolu case is executed in a manner one might expect to find on an English clock. It is therefore entirely possible that this clock was made by a combination of Swiss and English workmen. Swiss retailers such as Jaquet Droz retained premises in London and Swiss craftsmen worked in the city. To see both Swiss and English influences on a luxury item such as this clock is therefore not surprising.

    For a full discussion of Anglo-Swiss trade connections in luxury goods at the end of the 18th Century see Roger Smith, pp.123-139 who writes, in relation to the famous manufacturer of clocks for the Chinese market, James Cox:
    'Construction of the highly-ornamented cases and the complicated machinery that they contained was carried out by a wide range of craftsmen employed as out-workers or by sub-contractors. At first, during the 1760s and 1770s, most of Cox's workmen were based in London, though many were immigrants including several clock and watchmakers from Switzerland. However, when...he re-established his business in the 1780s, Cox seems to have turned to the Jaquet-Droz workshops in La Chaux-de-Fonds, London and Geneva to supply many of the elaborate watches, snuffboxes etc. which he exported to the Far East under his own name...Many of the exotic gilt-metal and jeweled cases for the objects sold by the Jaquet-Droz to Cox and other London exporters were probably brought over from Switzerland, but some of the work was certainly done by Swiss craftsmen based in London.' (pp.131-132)
    Comparison may also be made with another 'dressing table' clock in the Palace Museum collection, by William Hughes (see Liao Pin, p.113).