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    Sale 2608

    Magnificent Clocks for the Imperial Chinese Court from the Nezu Museum

    27 May 2008, Hong Kong

  • Lot 1505


    Price Realised  



    CASE: modelled in three tiers;
    The base section of rectangular outline and embellished with panels of gilded copper repoussé decorated with trailing floral designs, within beaded frames and bordered by red paste gems, the front centred by a clock flanked by two arched glazed panels for the automaton figure scenes and the sides with further glazed automaton fish scenes (see below), the rear with a silk-backed pierced and engraved ormolu panel, raised on an acanthus-cast gallery and on elaborate ormolu feet cast as openwork acanthus leaves, with aprons of trailing foliage between them;
    The middle section with florally-engraved platform bordered by an openwork gallery with knop finials at its angles, the four corners mounted with part foliate cast baluster vases issuing yellow, green and red paste-set automaton whirligigs in four cascading tiers, the panels decorated as for the base below and with a glazed automaton scene to the front (see below), the rear with paper inventory label 5;
    The upper section with a conforming gallery above a further paste-set border and around a florally-engraved platform, this mounted to the four corners with baluster vases matching those below and issuing automaton plants mounted with paste-set flowers, centred by a octagonal jardiniere decorated with panels of translucent blue basse-taille enamel embellished with green and gold floral enamels, the edges and angles of the jardiniere defined with lines of red paste gems, with a florally-engraved ormolu upper border framing a painted metal panel decorated with small flowerhead designs, from which arises a painted metal tree mounted with naturalistically 'trembling' paste gem-set flowers and topped by three automaton paste-set flowers, with two wooden automaton birds decorated with kingfisher feathers to the front (see below)

    DIAL: with red, yellow and green paste-set bezel to a convex glass, white enamel dial with Roman chapter ring and crossed minute track, gilt-metal spade hands and blued steel seconds hand

    AUTOMATA: hourly, or at will by pressing a knob to the right rear corner of the case, numerous automata perform; the red curtains behind the arched glazed panels at the front of the clock slowly rise, each revealing two painted wood figures in Chinese costume revolving on a platform within a niche painted with flowers and balustrades, between them they hold a blue painted baluster vase decorated with gold stars and issuing gilt-metal flowers which slowly rises and falls as the figures turn, as if it is being offered in tribute; meanwhile at the sides the glazed panels are reverse-mounted with cut-out painted metal borders depicting European figures and houses, these framing glass rods which revolve to simulate water and between them small painted metal fish periodically 'leap', all against a mirrored background framed by painted metal foliage; in the middle section a painted metal Qilin mythical beast with yinyang symbol on its back moves its head whilst the 'pearl' within the yinyang symbol revolves, the ground on which the beast rests is silvered and engraved in a pattern to simulate waves and cut with three apertures below which spiral-twist glass rods revolve to simulate moving water, the back of the panel being painted with a coastal landscape and with two trees modelled in relief, one of them gilt-painted and mounted with paste gem flowers; to the sides and above, the four whirligigs and the four floral displays all turn simultaneously and at the top of the tree the three paste-set flowerheads revolve whilst spinning and the leafy plant above them also revolves; all this occurs while music plays and as the music ends the curtains at the front fall down again and then the two birds move on their perches and sing, while opening their beaks and flapping their wings

    CLOCK MOVEMENT: with circular plates, twin chain and fusees with verge escapement and quarter strike on two bells, wound through the front of the case, hands also set through the front of the case and with pendulum-starting arbor to the lower front of the case, the clock movement with hourly trip to;

    MUSICAL AUTOMATA MOVEMENT: housed in the base, with single chain and fusee wound through the right side, with pinned barrel and playing one of four tunes (no selection) on ten bells with ten hammers, driving the automata via a system of gears, with trip to;

    THE AUTOMATON BIRDS: powered by a further movement, with single chain and fusee wound through the rear of the mid section, driving the bellows for the birdsong and levers to make them move

    39¼ in. (100 cm.) high x 18¼ in. (46.5 cm.) wide x 15¼ in. (39 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
    Alfred Chapuis and Edmond Droz, Automata, A Historical and Technological Study, London, 1958
    Derek Roberts, Mystery, Novelty and Fantasy Clocks, Atglen, 1999
    Alfred Chapuis, La Montre Chinoise, Neuchatel, 1919

    A number of Chinese clocks modelled with flowering jardinieres may be seen in the Palace Museum, Beijing. In it simplest form a cloisonné enamel vase is set with a clock and issues enamel flowers with opening leaves (see Liao Pin, op. cit., pp.44-45). That example was made in the clockmaking workshops of the Forbidden City. More elaborate tiered examples with typical Guangzhou cases of ormolu embellished with basse-taille enamels comparable to the present clock may also be seen (op. cit., pp.55 and 72). English clockmakers also made use of the elaborate decorative opportunities afforded by the 'flowerpot' design and the Palace Museum includes examples retailed by both James Cox and Timothy Williamson (pp.91 & 96). Another Chinese jardiniere-form clock may be seen in the present sale (lot 1509).

    Potted landscape contained within basins or jardinieres appeared to be very popular with the Qing court and a number of these were sent from the Guangdong workshops. Cf. five examples of decorative 'potted plants' were included in the exhibition, Tributes from Guangdong to the Qing Court, Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong, 1987, and illustrated by Yang Boda in the Catalogue, no. 58, as a tree with flowering plum blossoms in a rectangular jardiniere, ordered in the 13th year of Qianlong (1748); no. 59, featuring a peach tree; no. 60, finger citrus growing from a flower pot; and no. 61, a prunus tree beside a red berries.

    The addition of automaton singing birds on a clock of this type is unusual and shows the influence of the tabatières and bird cage clocks of late 18th Century Switzerland. Although the art of mechanically reproducing birdsong predates the Christian era the technique of making naturalistically moving and singing birds was perfected by the brothers Jaquet-Droz and Jean-Fréderic Leschot, who set up business together at La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1764 (see Chapuis & Droz, pp.193-195, Roberts pp.191-196). Such novelties were particularly well received in China (see Chapuis, pp.26-27) and many items with birds of every kind were sent to China by the Jaquet-Droz and their partners and successors, Leschot of Geneva and Henri Maillardet of London (see Chapuis & Droz, p.211). According to records of the Swiss clockmakers Robert & Courvoisier they produced some forty birdcage clocks between 1784 and 1789. Jaquet-Droz first started supplying goods to James Cox in London in 1783 (see Roberts, p.197) and in 1791 this reference appears to the sale of a singing bird clock to China: 'Cox and Beale owe for goods despatched to them on the vessel L'Argonaute to be sold on behalf of Jaquet-Droz and Leschot-- A pair of clocks with griffins made of marble and unpolished gilded bronze with striking mechanism, dead seconds, a carillon and a bird in spangles perching on the top singing its own song and a tune.' (Chapuis & Droz, p.215). There is a notably fine birdcage clock in the Palace Museum which has the distinctively 'Chinese market' addition of an automaton catherine-wheel cresting and which also has an automaton water feature (Liao Pin, pp.88-89; Chapuis & Droz, p.216). Other examples of Swiss singing birds in cages are illustrated in Roberts (pp.186, 192 & 198).