An important French 'Japonaise' ormolu and enamel turtle-form clock
An important French 'Japonaise' ormolu and enamel turtle-form clock


An important French 'Japonaise' ormolu and enamel turtle-form clock
Almost certainly designed by Émile-Auguste Reiber for L'Escalier de Cristal, Paris, Circa 1870-80
Modelled as a turtle stalking a crab, the clockface as the turtle's polychrome-decorated shell, with stylised oriental numerals and dragon-form hands, suspended within a shaped pierced frame, the mounts stamped GJL, the movement by Dueaud, Paris
33½ in. (85 cm.) high; 15¾ in. (40 cm.) wide; 7½ in. (19 cm.) deep

Lot Essay

This unusual clock elegantly blends European and Asian motifs and styles. Its overall design is reminiscent of 18th century Chinese table screens, and the circular dial is inspired by Asian mandalas. The clock illustrates the significant Far Eastern influence on European decorative arts following the reopening of Japan to the West in 1854, and the restoration of Emperor Meiji in 1868. Subsequently, widespread interest in all things Asian was stimulated by Japanese displays at the International Exhibitions in London, 1862, in Paris, 1867, and in Philadelphia, 1876. In 1869, an Exhibition was held by the Union des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, where an entire museum of Oriental art was displayed.

The Western hunger for this new taste is evident in a range of products, such as the present clock, where romantic motifs and naturalism were combined with a mélange of styles to create an atmosphere, instead of simply attempting to produce accurate reproductions of Oriental articles. Designers and makers responded to the challenge of these new influences by studying forms and techniques of Asian decoration, and produced cloisonné enamel, marquetry of shell and ivory, patinated bronzes, and carved woods, all using the stylised vocabulary of the Far East. Makers such a Viardot, Lièvre, Giroux, L'Escalier de Cristal, Duvinage and Christofle, all conjured up images of the Orient in pieces of the utmost refinement and quality. Photographs of Christofle's stands at the 1878 and 1889 Paris exhibitions include items enamelled in the Japanese taste, a testament to the enduring market for Asian-inspired objects throughout the century (see H. Bouilhet, Christofle, Silversmith since 1830, Paris, 1981).

The design for the present clock may be attributed to the architect and designer Emile-Auguste Reiber (d. 1893) who imitated Japanese production techniques to satisfy the vogue for exotic styles. His much lauded designs were used by many of the leading artisans of the time, including Theodore Deck (see Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, Le Japonisme, 1988, fig. 166), and the ébéniste Jean-Michel Grohé (see D. Ledoux-Lebard, Le Mobilier Français du XIXe Siècle, Paris, 1989, p. 243) who created two cabinets for La Païva. Interestingly, the bronzes and enamels for these cabinets were executed by Christofle, where Reiber was employed as chief designer (and with whom L'Escalier de Cristal collaborated). At the 1873 exhibition in Vienna, which was billed as a "meeting of East and West", Christofle exhibited a Chinese style enamelled vase designed by Reiber that received high accolades. His designs for enamelled work, clocks, and candelabras are preserved at the Musée Bouilhet-Christofle (see The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Japonisme in Decorative Arts, Tokyo, 1998). In 1877 in Paris, he published Le premier volume des Albums-Reiber, a volume of 40 design prints concentrating on Japanese objects by Cernuschi, Bing, and Maron in Yokohama.

Established in 1802, the luxury store of the firm L'Escalier de Cristal supplied clocks, lamps and other objets d'art to ruling families in Europe, and were appointed fournisseur breveté du Roi in 1819. The business was located in the Palais Royal, a centre of excellence for the high quality jewellers, silversmiths and manufacturers of Objets de Vertu, for which Paris was renowned. The company commissioned manufacturers to supply individual components which were then assembled to the firm's own designs - much in the tradition of the 18th century marchands-merciers, from whom they inherited their specialist profession.

A Japonaise clock garniture signed by L'Escalier de Cristal, was sold Christie's New York, 29 March 2000, lot 214. The vasiform clock in this garniture had a similar bronze tressle frame and dragon-form clockhands to the present lot. An unsigned garniture with identical turtle-form clock, attributed to Christofle, was sold Sotheby's London, 26 February 1999, lot 125.

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