A ROYAL CLOCK ORDERED FOR CARLTON HOUSE
This documented clock formed part of the collection supplied by the Royal clock-maker Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy (d. 1854) to the Prince of Wales, later King George IV, at Carlton House.
The Lord Chamberlain's records for 1815 state:
Work done by Benj. L. Vulliamy, clockmaker by order from 5 April to 5 July 1815
May 1. For an eight-day spring Time piece name
Vulliamy No 538 with gilt guilloche Dial
plate chased snake Ring and steel hands
in a very neat black marble Case ornamented
with 2 Lions and an eagle chased in the best
manner and gilt in dead gold fixed to a
Wainscot Stand covered with a bent Glass Shade..£ 39.18-'
The Prince of Wales (later George IV) shared his father's passion for clocks and he introduced various examples to the collection, both French and English. While some of his acquisitions displayed highly complex works, the design of the cases were equally if not more important, and even those supplied by Vulliamy reflected his francophile tastes (Carlton House: The Past Glories of George IV's Palace, Buckingham Palace, exhibition catalogue, 1991, p. 38).
THE VULLIAMYS AND CARLTON HOUSE
In 1783, George, Prince of Wales, then twenty-one, was presented with Carlton House in Pall Mall as his London residence. The property had been acquired by the Royal family by Frederick, Prince of Wales, who purchased it from Lord Burlington's mother in 1732.
Over the next few decades, the future king George IV, embarked on a massive and extravagant project to alter, enlarge, decorate and redecorate the palace in a manner that was repeated at his seaside pavilion at Brighton, and later Buckingham Palace. The Prince of Wales employed a series of London's top architects to carry out the transformations including Sir William Chambers (d.1796), Henry Holland (d.1806), James Wyatt (d.1813), Thomas Hopper (d.1856) and John Nash (d.1835). The interior decoration was entrusted to professionals including Dominique Daguerre, and amateurs including friends and members of his household staff.
The Prince of Wales continued to spend lavish amounts on Carlton House until he succeeded his father as king and moved into Buckingham Palace in 1820. At this point, Carlton House became redundant and further investment in the palace unjustified. The house was demolished in 1827 and many of its contents were dispersed to Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace.
The firm of Vulliamy, headed by Benjamin Vulliamy (d.1811) and his son Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy (d.1854), was primarily known by its role as Royal clockmakers. The family had held the Royal Warrant since the 1740s. However, by the beginning of the nineteenth century, the business at 74 Pall Mall encompassed such a full range of activities that B. L. Vulliamy was to earn the epithet 'the Prince's furniture man'. They enjoyed a pre-eminent position in the luxury goods market working for the Royal family as well as the English aristocracy. In addition to clocks, the firm supplied chimneypieces, candelabra and other decorative objects in bronze, ormolu and marble to Carlton House, much of it imported directly from France. Their relationship with French craftsmenship was a complicated one as French clock cases often had their original movements replaced by Vulliamy, who was wont to express disdain on French clockmaking skills.
THE DESIGN AND MANUFACTURE OF THE CLOCK
Unusually among clockmakers, the Vulliamys numbered most of the clocks they made, openly doing so from 1788 until 1854, when the firm closed. The remarkable survival of two Vulliamy works books (now with the British Horological Institute at Upton Hall) provides invaluable information for clocks with serial numbers 296-469 and 746-1067 including the patron, date of delivery and details of production. This Royal clock - numbered 538 - was ordered at a time where there is a gap in the records so information regarding production details have been lost (See R. Smith, 'Vulliamy Clock Numbering: A Dated Series', Antiquarian Horology, No. 6, Vol. 19, 1991, pp. 620-625; and R. Smith, 'Vulliamy Clock Numbering A postscript', Antiquarian Horology, No. 5, Vol., 21, 1994, pp. 427-429).
An examination of Vulliamy's existing Ornament and Clock books reveals a lucrative relationship with the Paris-based family firm of Delafontaine. In the years 1806-1808, their name appeared 45 times in the records as suppliers of bronze mounts for clocks and other objects which were then gilt in England. Animal figures (and the actual patterns) included lions (£2 each) and eagles (£7 5s). Lions copied from the antique were priced at £5 9s 2d. Interestingly, some mounts of the same model were supplied by both Delafontaine and English bronze manufacturers. A clock of this basic model numbered 439 was supplied to the Prince of Wales in 1808 and the records in the Vulliamy books reveal the lion mounts and a similar (crouching) eagle to be English copied after the Delafontaine model. This same clock also showcased an elaborately cast frieze and cost £66 11s 6d. (G. de Bellaigue, 'The Vulliamys and France', Furniture History, pp. 45-53 and pl. 13A).
The two Royal clocks form part of a series of 'lion' timepieces produced by Vulliamy, which exhibit variations to their designs but all with drum cases and on rectangular plinths. The present example is one of the later models distinguished by its eagle finial, lions positioned along the plinth rather than across it and engine-turned dials (other known clocks are numbered 483, 498, 591, 618, 863). An identical clock to the 1808 Royal example is in the private collection of Horace Wood Brock (see exhibition catalogue: Splendor and Elegance: European Decorative Arts and Drawings from the Horace Wood Brock Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, p. 74, fig. 69). Earlier variations include clocks with flattened disc or urn finials such as the clock numbered 309 bought by the connoisseur-collector William Beckford in 1799 and recently sold in 'Dealing in Excellence: A Celebration of Hotspur and Jeremy'; Christie's, London, 20 November 2008, lot 5.