ART DECO EGYPTIAN REVIVAL MOTHER-OF-PEARL, ENAMEL, LAPIS-LAZULI, CORAL AND GOLD "TEMPLE GATE" CLOCK
Depicting a temple gate, the door forming a rectangular, mother-of-pearl dial with luminous gold Roman chapters, the hands in the form of lotus blooms above an enamelled scene of divinities, within a polished coral and mother-of-pearl portico, incised with fanciful heiroglyphics, divinities and lotus flowers, the tapered sides applied with lapis-lazuli motifs suspending carved coral bamboo ring handles, with lapis-lazuli base and top, the striped white enamel entablature set with the enamel and gem-set figure of a goddess, the mother-of-pearl reverse with concealed door opening to reveal the winding apertures, the quarter striking movement by Drocourt, No. 2980 with fine nickel escapement platform and straight line lever, finished and signed by European Watch and Clock Co. No. 95504, the case bearing French hallmarks, makers marks M.C. for Maurice Coüet , with original leather fitted case and numbered key--6 x 9 3/8 x 5 in. (15.2 x 23.8 x 12.7 cm), circa 1927
Signed by Cartier, France No. 1607, 0635
THE "EGYPTIAN TEMPLE GATE" CLOCK
Among the most significant of civilised mankind's achievements is the art of ancient Egypt. It was a traditional and timeless art, bringing to life the mysteries of an ancient civilization and thriving for over five thousand years in the valley of the Nile.
From the Renaissance onward, the classical arts were taught in every European academy, emphasizing the mysterious beliefs concerning the afterlife, and were of compelling interest.
Periodic revivals of Egyptian art occur in cycles of about 50 or 60 years. European interest in the ancient Nile civilization reappeared during the 18th Century with the newly discovered frescoes at Herculaneum and Pompeii depicting Egyptian motifs such as the Isis figure.
The Egyptian revival provided a recurring theme in design throughout the 19th Century, with roots in the Napoleonic conquest of the Nile. Ancient Egyptian motifs became dominant elements in the Empire style, promoted by the first architect/interior designer team of Percier and Fontaine. Another neo-Egyptian style swept Europe during the reign of Napoléon III, exemplified by the lavish production of Verdi's Aida in 1871, commemorating the opening of the Suez Canal and the inauguration of the Cairo Opera House.
While it is likely that there would have been a further revival in the 1920's, the discovery of King Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922, by Howard Carter (1873-1939), financed by Lord Carnarvon (1866-1923) released a wave of excitement which swept the fine arts, literature, fashion and film. It was the most sensational archaeological discovery of the 20th Century. An ancient myth had been reborn and the lore of Pharaonic Egypt continues today.
Throughout the 19th Century jewelry in the Egyptian taste was being created by such distinguished jewelers as Lalique, Mellerio, Boucheron, Baugrand, Lemonnier and of course Cartier. In England, the Italian jeweler Carlo Giuliano was producing designs incorporating Egyptian motifs using cloisonné enamels as well as other advanced fabrication techniques unknown to the ancients.
Objects such as clocks, cigarette and vanity cases, as well as jewelry, are particualrly well suited to this style. Unexpected colors and materials were in line with Art Deco philosophy, and were the same as those used in Egypt at around 20 BC.
Art Deco jewelry and precious objects have consistently realized substantial prices in the sale room as demand has increased and supply diminished since the first landmark sale of the H. Robert Greene Collection of Art Deco at Christie's Geneva in November 1978.
Cartier's first work in the Egyptian style was in the 1850's, when he created a scarab bracelet in pearls and enamel. These amuletic beetle forms remained a favorite Egyptian motif during the 19th Century. Among the firm's most sophisticated Egyptian Revival pieces, dating from the 1870's, was an Egyptian style watch set with rubies and rose-cut diamonds. Other important designs were produced in the 1890's. Art Nouveau styles of the turn of the century included stylistic adaptations based on Egyptian themes, stimulated by the widening of historical knowledge by the archaeological discoveries of Auguste Mariette, Gaston Maspero, Edward Ayrton and Sir Flinders Petrie.
Responsible for the design of some of Cartier's most important Art Deco works in the Egyptian motif was Charles Jacqueau. Born in 1885, he joined Cartier in 1909 and was supported by his mentor, Louis Cartier. Initially designing in the garland style, his work evolved, drawing for inspiration upon Egypt, Islam, India, China and Japan. In Egyptian art he was specifically interested in the stylization of mask-like faces, the lotus flower in outline and simple architectural forms. He designed for Cartier the well known Egyptian style vanity cases, among which was the elaborately gem-set sarcophagus box.
One of the most spectacular of all Cartier's works in the Egyptian Revival style is the present Temple Gate Clock. It does not appear to be an exact copy of a specific pylon, although the cube shaped case has been identified by one authority as probably having been modeled on the Khonsou Temple at Karnak. It is more likely to be a generalized version of a typical temple gate in the New Kingdom style. It has the form and imagery of the 19th/20th Dynasty, i.e., of the Ramesside Period (c. 1295-1070 BC), at a time of revolutionary change in Egyptian religious tradition.
The case meets every tenet of good architecture with regard to proportion and scale. The mother-of-pearl panels are incised with formalized hieroglyphic designs of protective divinities of the Pharaohs and the Kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt, in hierarchial attitudes, seated and standing, receiving adoration and offerings or performing ritual gestures. Here are also seen stylized lotus and papyrus plants and the zig-zag line that was the Egyptian symbol for the "river of life". The hieroglyphic designs are in mirror image, that is, the designs on the right side of the case repeat those on the left in the reverse position. Notable symmetry is to be observed in the 12 o'clock - 6 o'clock and the 3 o'clock - 9 o'clock axes.
Across the lintel is an Art Deco version of the vulture goddess Mut, who as the goddess who shields her devotees from famine and pestilence, spreads her protective wings. The coral mount of the clock face is complimented on the plinth and upperwork with a counterpoint of lapis-lazuli. The hands of the clock are gold and radium, taking the form of a closed lotus bud and open lotus flower, representing "the time to come" and "the time present". The papyrus motif represents "the time past" where events were recorded on papyrus scrolls.
The shape and placement of the rectangular plaques of mother-of-pearl and lapis-lazuli on the top, sides and base of the clock case recall the alternating order of the basalt, sandstone and polished granite blocks used in the erection of ancient temples and palaces.
On the back of the case an ingenious closure allows a concealed panel to drop on an invisible hinge, revealing the winding mechanism; a design element reminiscent of the secret openings in the passageways of the pyramids and the tombs of the Valley of the Kings.
Carved coral bamboo motif ring handles suspended from lapis-lazuli motifs on the sides of the case continue the Art Deco influence, blending perfectly with the architectonic qualities of this example of horological craftsmanship and goldsmith's artistry.
The Temple Gate clock was completed by Maurice Coüet (1885-1963) in 1927 and was first sold in New York in 1929. Coüet was a master horologist of incomparable skill and ingenuity. About 1911, he established his own business and very soon began to supply table clocks exclusively to Cartier, creating sophisticated mechanisms with spectacular dials, becoming well known as maker of many of the famous mystery clocks. As the grandest of clockmakers, Coüet assumed the role of connoisseur, his fabrications for Cartier were in the height of fashion, raising the firm's table clocks to the highest levels of inspired craftsmanship.
Recently rediscovered, its whereabouts unknown for decades, attention was focused by Hans Nadelhoffer on the importance of the Egyptian Temple Gate clock in his superb work on Cartier, when he described it as "the most splendid of all Cartier's works in the Egyptian style".
Although Cartier continued to produce designs in the Egyptian idiom after the 1920's, it was during this period that the most evolved of the Egyptian works were produced, several of which were exhibited at the French exhibition in Cairo in 1929 with the firm of Cartier receiving the Royal Warrant of King Fuad.
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