Joseph Baumhauer, called Joseph, bniste privilgi du roi circa 1749.
The 19th Century engraving on the upper plinth of this clock, noted independently in two auction catalogues in 1887 and 1942, provides conclusive evidence that this largely unrecorded clock is the example of this model owned by the English antiquarian collector and connoisseur Horace Walpole (1717-1797). Although Walpole's earliest reference to it is 1774 (loc.cit.), it seems likely that he acquired around 1766, the date of manufacture of one of the springs in the movement and probably the entire clock. It also seems likely that there was at least partly a political motivation in Walpole's purchase of this clock.
In 1774 (and in the late 1780s) the clock stood on a black-japanned bureau in the Refectory or Great Parlour at Strawberry Hill in Middlesex, transformed for Walpole into a 'little Gothic castle' to the designs of Richard Bentley. The clock stood just beneath Sir Joshua Reynolds's The Ladies Waldegrave (ill., National Gallery of Scotland) depicting the three daughters of James, 2nd Earl Waldegrave and Maria Walpole, illegitimate daughter of Sir Edward Walpole, Horace Walpole's brother. Portrait, clock and bureau stood against 'paper hung in imitation of stucco', a rare and highly fashionable wall covering at this date (Wainwright, op. cit., p. 81). The bureau was flanked by a pair of chairs with Gothic backs inspired by window tracery, later a much used concept but highly unusual in 1756. One chair is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum (W.29-1979).
The clock passed by descent through Maria Walpole, one of the sitters in Reynolds's portrait, to the 7th Earl Waldegrave, by whom it was sold as part of George Robins's spectacular house sale at Strawberry Hill in 1842. Bought by the dealer Edward Holmes Baldock, it subsequently entered the collection of the Earls of Lonsdale. William, 1st Earl of Lonsdale was a noted collector, friend and contemporary of the Prince of Wales, later King George IV. His son the 2nd Earl was also called William and is known to have patronised Baldock in the 1830s and 1840s. Either could have bought this clock from Baldock, although it seems more likely that it was bought by the 2nd Earl (55 the year of the Strawberry Hill sale) than his father who was 85 that year. The 1st Earl also owned the French & Company Langlois commode which was sold at Christie's New York on 24 November 1998, lot 35. The plinth engraving was presumably undertaken for Baldock or Lonsdale, a significant act of piety towards Walpole the connoisseur.
After its sale at Christie's in 1887, to the dealer Wertheimer, this clock apparently disappeared. In his 1974 catalogue of the Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon (loc.cit.), Geoffrey de Bellaigue suggests three candidates for being the Walpole clock (Waddesdon, no.17; another sold at Sotheby's 25 March 1960, lot 119 and a third sold at Christie's on 29 June 1972, lot 9). Identification of any of these clocks as Walpole's required the inscription noted in 1887 to have been erased. In the case of the Waddesdon and the Sotheby's 1960 clock there was also the question of feet which would need to have been added after John Carter's watercolour of the late 1780s (illus.) which clearly shows Walpole's clock without feet. Quoting Dr. W. S. Lewis, the great scholar and collector of Walpole's letters and possessions, de Bellaigue (op.cit., p. 107) tellingly wrote:
'There is of course a possibility that a fourth version by Julian Leroy may come to light with stronger claims which, to use a phrase of Dr. Lewis, will effectively de-Walpoliate the other three'.
This is surely that clock and its recorded history does not end with the Lonsdale sale in 1887. There is a reference in the Wallace Collection archive to a clock sold at Sotheby's in June 1942 that 'has claimed in the catalogue to be the example from Strawberry Hill' (P. Hughes, The Wallace Collection, Catalogue of Furniture, vol. I, London, 1996, pp. 440-443, no. 99 F267). Although easy to dismiss, this claim can only have been based on the presence the engraving on the clock. The Carter watercolour of the Refectory at Strawberry Hill was first published by W.S. Lewis in 1941, and the clock is not a significant feature in it. It is surely impossible that the Sotheby's cataloguer in 1942 suggested that this was the Walpole clock for any reason other than it being engraved.
The Signed Spring
The inscription on one spring of the signature and date of the spring-maker Charles Buzot compares closely with those of the same maker on both the motion and striking springs of the clock of this model in the Wallace Collection, with movement by Ferdinand Berthoud (P. Hughes, The Wallace Collection, Catalogue of Furniture, vol. I, London, 1996, pp. 440-443, no. 99 F267). The springs on the Wallace clock are dated October 1768. Tardy (Dictionnaire, 1971, p. 103) records Charles Buzot as working for Ferdinand Berthoud in 1754, but notes his signature on springs dated as early as 1741.
The Origin of the Pendule a la Geoffrin
Until Baulez's 1989 article (op. cit.) the origins of this enduringly popular model had not been fully researched. It had been thought that the earliest examples were those supplied in late 1758 by the marchand mercier Lazare Duvaux to the comte du Luc and for the use of the duc de Bourgogne. Baulez showed that Madame de Geoffrin's own example, of which she said that 'elle est l'original', was probably executed by the sculptor Laurent Guiard in 1754. It is possibly important that in 1768 Madame de Geoffrin gave a copy of her clock to the philosopher Denis Diderot (1713-1784), a leading figure of the Enlightenment in France and author of the Encyclopdie (1751-76), through which he disseminated and popularised philosophy and scientific knowledge. Diderot's clock is now in the Muse du Breuil de Saint-Germain at Langres. Baulez (op. cit.) hints at the clock's place in Enlightenment salons across Europe.
The English Political Dimension
One hitherto unexplored aspect of the Pendule la Geoffrin is the possible political links among the English connoisseurs who owned them. Madame de Geoffrin was conspicuous in her absence of desire to be part of the royal court and the salon that gathered around her contained thinkers with advanced political views, particularly Diderot. It seems significant that the recorded English purchasers, including Walpole, were noted Whigs, opposed to the policies of King George III and his ministers. In the autumn of 1764, Henry Fox, a leading Whig politician and father of Charles James Fox, wrote to his wife Caroline in Paris:
'Send me a large clock at Poirier's which I thought too big for Sir Jacob Downing with the long genteel figure in bronze reclined' (S. Tillyard, Aristocrats, London, 1997, p. 166). It seems certain from this description that he is referring to a Pendule la Geoffrin, although none was included in James Christie's sale of the contents of Holland House in 1775. Walpole was a Whig and an intimate of the Foxes and the prominence he gave this clock at Strawberry Hill attests to its importance in his mind.
The Pendule la Geoffrin in the Wallace Collection (Hughes, op. cit.) was originally bought by the 3rd Marquess of Hertford at the Countess of Holderness sale in 1802. There is one final twist in the history of the Walpole clock that possibly links it to the Wallace Collection. The sale in 1942 at Sotheby's was held after the death of Lady Portsea. Her fist husband had been called Seymour, and he was a cousin of the 4th Marquess of Hertford, one of the creators of the Wallace Collection. At the 1942 sale, the Walpole clock was bought by someone called Seymour, possibly a relation. Perhaps there was a family connection between the Wallace clock and the Walpole clock in the late 19th Century.