R.C.R Barder, The Georgian Bracket Clock 1714-1830, Woodbridge, 1993
Liao Pin (editor), Clocks and Watches of the Qing Dynasty, From the Collection in the Forbidden City, Beijing, 2007
Lu Yangzhen (senior editor), Timepieces Collected by the Qing Emperors in the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 1995
Magnificent Clocks for the Chinese Imperial Court from the Nezu Museum, Christie's auction catalogue, Hong Kong, 27 May 2008
CLOCKMAKING IN CHINA
It is highly probable that this clock was made in the clockmaking workshops of Guangzhou. The enamel decoration in particular is typical of the city. During the middle of the Kangxi reign (1662-1722) Guangzhou became a focal point for trade between China and the West and became established as a clock-making centre. During the Qianlong reign (1711-1799) it became a fully-fledged production base for chiming clocks. Early Guangzhou clocks were crude in comparison with their European counterparts but by the middle of Qianlong's reign onwards quality soared and clocks from the city were once again sent as tribute to the Emperor. Colourful enamels -- known as 'Canton' enamels -- were a characteristic decoration. The palette range varied from yellow, green, blue and other bright colours, although blue seems to have been the favoured ground colour for clock surfaces. For a fuller account of clockmaking in China see Guo Fuxiang, 'An Overview of Christie's Imperial Clocks Sale', introductory essay to Nezu catalogue (pp. 24-25).
THE EUROPEAN INFLUENCE
Standing just eighteen inches high overall, the present clock is unusually small for a Chinese musical and automaton clock and is essentially a miniature clock mounted on a stepped plinth. The majority of Chinese clocks of this type are 'tiered', frequently in three or four sections and with no spaces between them. See for example the many elaborate examples in the Imperial collection in the Palace Museum, Beijing and others sold from the Nezu Museum, Christie's Hong Kong, 27 May 2008. In contrast, this example is formed as a clock with feet resting above a separate plinth. The design of the 'clock' itself most closely resembles a Guangzhou-made automaton 'umbrella' clock in the Palace Museum (see Liao Pin, p. 70), sharing as it does the same essential outline (arched case with slightly bombé lower part and topped by a squared platform). A similar form may be seen on other clocks in the Palace Museum (see Lu Yangzhen ed., pp. 65 and 72). This design appears to have been heavily influenced by English clock cases of the George III period by makers such as Francis Perigal. See for example the ormolu-mounted ebony musical clock sold Christie's London, 2 July 2004, lot 74; and another quarter-chiming example for the Turkish market by James Cox and Son illustrated in Barder (p. 170, pl.V/13). A Chinese ormolu musical and automaton clock surmounted by a cupola in turn centred by an automaton figure, sold Christie's London, 22 January 2009, lot 160 (£121,250), also shows this European influence. The in-scrolled plinth feet of the present clock are distinctly European in form (see for comparison those on a clock by Prior illustrated by Barder, p. 117 and examples on clocks by Williamson and Hatt in the Palace Museum, Lu Yangzhen pp. 145 and 153) but their Chinese origin is suggested by the scroll projecting a little further than on English models. In-scrolled feet of related design may be seen also on a Qianlong period jardiniere clock from the Guangzhou workshops in the Museum (p. 63).
The stylised 'peacock feather' polychrome decoration on the blue enamels of the present clock appears to be quite unusual, with floral motifs being more prevalent. It may also be seen to the top of a clock in the Palace Museum (see Lu Yangzhen, p. 125). Although apparently signed for John Taylor that clock case is most certainly of Chinese manufacture. The previously mentioned Chinese jardiniere clock in the Museum also appears to have this decoration to the jardiniere (p. 63). When enamel decoration is used on Chinese clocks it is often used throughout the case, but not always; the 'Taylor' clock in the Palace Museum only has enamel to the top of the case and a jardiniere clock in the Nezu Collection (lot 1505, £2,063,000) has it only to the jardiniere.
Other recorded examples of 'acrobat' clocks include a Chinese enamel tier-form clock in the Palace Museum (see Lu Yangzhen, p. 55) and another paste-set ormolu example, also tier form, sold from the Nezu Collection (lot 1502, £495,000). An English tortoiseshell musical clock with acrobat figure above the dial by Thomas Hunter may be seen in the Palace Museum (p. 134). The form of that clock is similar to the present clock and to others by makers such as Perigal (see above).
The poem to the centre of the clock dial is an interesting feature and extremely unusual, with no other examples apparently recorded. The style of the calligraphy is 19th Century. An Imperial origin is implied, in particular by the character in red. However, the date and source of the inscription cannot be confirmed and it may be a later embellishment.