France's fascination with The Orient began in the reign of Louis XIV, following the Siamese ambassadors' visit to France and the publication of the edition of views of the Palace of Emperor Kien Long. The marchands-merciers of 18th Century France capitalised on this trend for the goût Chinois, using their skill and imagination to produce a variety of items such as pot-pourris, candelabra and clocks, all decorated in the Oriental style, deliberately resembling the finest and most expensive 17th Century Japanese lacquer.
These were not mass-produced items and the high level of craftsmanship involved in their creation is evident. The handful of clocks known of similar design to the present model have movements by important makers of the time such as Julien Le Roy, Pierre Le Roy, Etienne LeNoir, de Mesnil, Gudin and Baillon. Charles Baltazar is only found on one other clock (see Christie's, New York, 30 April 1999, Lot 35). They were richly decorated and often adorned with Meissen or Vincennes floral porcelain mounts or occasionally with porcelain of French provincial manufacture such as Mennecy.
Clocks like the present example started to be seen in France in around 1735-45. Indeed, it is interesting to note that, like the majority of clocks of this type, the case is not punched with the crowned C poinçon which related to the tax imposed on bronze objects between 1745 and 1749. We can therefore deduce that this clock dates to pre-1745.
The similarities in the decoration to these objects suggest that they could all have been the work of one workshop. The decoration to the present lot is attributed to Martin Frères. Unlike other maîtres ébénistes that stamped or signed their works, Martin frères did not leave any mark on their works. Whilst there is no absolute evidence of the Martin family's involvement in this particular style of decoration, a number of near contemporary documents suggest that they were credited with it at the time. Interestingly, in the catalogue drawn up by Pierre Rémy in 1768 of the collection of Monsieur Gaignat, Secretaire du roi & Receveur des Consignations, lot 188 was described as 'Une très belle et grande pendule ornée de plusieurs figures de cuivre représentant des magots vernis par Martin, imitant le laque'. The specialist for the sale, Simon-Philippe Poirier worked with the Martins so is likely to have been able to recognise their work easily. Martin-Frères were granted a Royal Patent to protect the vernis technique which they had invented and this was enhanced in 1744 by a renewed patent for lacquer wares 'en relief dans le goût du Japon et de la Chine'. By 1748 they had opened the manufacture Royale de vernis de la Chine. The attribution is further strengthened by contemporary inventories, such as that of the Comtesse de Mailly of 1753.
The present lot is particularly unusual since it incorporates three magot figures which is much less common than two figures. This particular model is apparently previously unrecorded. A similar clock of larger size also with three figures and movement by Julien Le Roy (d. 1759), flanked by matching two-light candelabra in the Residenzmuseum, Munich, is illustrated in P. Verlet, les Bronzes Dorés Français, Paris, 1987, p. 21, no. 7. Another garniture was sold Sotheby's, New York, The Jaime Ortiz-Patino Collection, 20 May 1992, Lot 7 ($319,000). Other related examples include, a three-figure clock by Etienne LeNoir, Christie's, New York, Magnificent French Furniture, formerly from the Collection of Monsieur and Madame Riahi, 2 November 2000, Lot 8 ($303,000), and a two figure clock by Balthazard, Christie's, New York, The Alexander Collection, 30 April 1999, Lot 35 (€200,500). A pair of candelabra similarly decorated sold Sotheby's Paris, 16 December 2004, lot 142 (€422,400).
E. Niehüser, French Bronze Clocks, Munich, 1999, p.202
J.-D. Augarde, les Ouvriers du Temps, Paris, 1996, p. 180, fig. 144 (collection D. Riahi)
T. Wolvesperges, 'A propos d'une pendule aux magots en vernis Martin du musée du Louvre provenant de la collection Grog-Carven', Revue du Louvre, 4 October 2001, pp.66-78