In a letter dated 23 February 1789 to "His Excellency, Gen'l Washington," Morris wrote, "Upon my arrival at the Place I spoke to Mr. Jefferson on the subject of your Watch. He told me that the Man who had made Maddison's was a Rogue and recommended me to another...but it might happen that this was also a Rogue, I inquired and then...(elsewhere)...I found at last that Mr. L'Pine is at the head of his Profession here...I therefore waited on Mr. L'Pine and agreed with him for two Watches...one of which will be for you and the other for me."
Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816) was by birth a member of the Colonial aristocracy of New York. His father, Lewis Morris II (1698-1762) was Lord of the Manor of Morrisania, one of only six New York estates to be possessed of manorial rights. His half-brother, Lewis Morris III (1726-1798), was New York signatory of the Declaration of Independence.
As for Morris himself, he well represented the type of gentry from whom so many of the American Revolutionary leaders came. At 16, he achieved a B.A. degree at King's College, New York (now Columbia University); read law in New York; served on the Provincial Congress in 1776-77 and was elected to the Continental Congress in 1777-79 where he enthusiastically supported George Washington's ability as a leader and Washington's reorganization of the Army. Most importantly, Morris was elected as chairman of the committee which so forthrightly repealed Lord North's peace proposal, declaring that no commission would be received until British warships and forces were withdrawn and the independence of the United States recognized.
In the early 1780's Morris became assistant Secretary of Finance by Congressional provision and it was later he who proposed the use of the Decimal system for the country's coinage.
In 1787, Morris was chosen as delegate to the Continental Convention assembled in Philadelphia to frame what was to become the Constitution of the United States of America. Of his work in the Convention James Madison wrote, "...The finish given to the style and arrangement of the Constitution fairly belongs to...Mr. Morris..."
In December 1788, Morris sailed to France to manage contracts with the Farmers-General. In 1790, he was unofficially appointed to act for President Washington concerning the American war debt for France. In 1792, he was appointed by Washington to succeed Thomas Jefferson as Minister to the Court of Louis XVI, keeping his appointment until 2 October 1794, being the only member of the Diplomatic Corps to ride out the Terror.
When Morris' diplomatic position in Paris was officially neutral, privately he sided with the monarchy that had supported the American Revolution and conceived a bold, yet unavailing attempt for the King and Marie-Antoinette to escape from Paris. At the end of July 1792, Louis XVI begged him 'to supervise what was being done in his service and became guardian of his money.' Later, Morris was to save Lafayette's wife from the guillotine.
Morris remained in Paris until the spring of 1793, withdrawing to his country house near Sainport until October 1794, and thence to the Continent with numerous visits to London. He returned to New York in 1798, moving in 1800 into Morrisania, his newly built house, to live amongst his books bought in Paris and London, his French wines and what was almost certainly the first French Royal furniture to be seen in New York. One visitor in 1804 describes Morris and his house as having "great sociability and mirth added to splendor in the extreme...he lives literally like a nobleman."
On Christmas Day, 1809, Morris married Anne Cary Randolph, of Virginia. After his death in 1816, Morris' splendid furniture remained at Morrisania with his descendants until the house was destroyed in 1905.
For the most complete information regarding Morris, his life and his purchases in Paris, see Louis Schreider. "Gouverneur Morris, Connoisseur of French Art," Apollo, June 1971, pp. 470-483, from which this biography is extracted.
The entry for Morris' diary for July 7 1792 reads: "This morning I write then go to Mr. Lépine's and order home my clocks" (see Louis Schreider III, op. cit, p. 476).
On October 1, 1792 Morris purchased from Lépine for 2944 livres: deux pendules avec ses vases pur accompagner la plus grande'
Shortly before Morris had paid 2400 livres for this regulator which he intended to place in his study in Paris (Fletcher, p. 331).
On 21 Brumaire an 3 (.....1798) Morris requested 'la permission d'envoyer dans les Etats Unis oú il est sur le point de retourner les caisses, malles, voitures et autres objets ci après désignés savoir...Une caisse no. 232 renfermant d'autres caisses contenant deux poids et les mouvements plus une figure en bronze...'
This document proves that the bust which surmounts this regulator was already in place by 1795. Morris received permission to export free of any customs duty and his possessions crossed the Atlantic on the American brig Le Superbe en route for Morrisania.
A nearly identical clock with the case by Nicolas Petit and movement by Lepaute is in the Wallace Collection (see F.J.B. Watson, Catalogue: Furniture, London, 1956, pp. 133-134, fig. 49). The ormolu mounts on the Wallace clock are identical to Morris' clock except for a massive ormolu group of Apollo in his chariot. However, it has been suggested that the Apollo group was designed for another clock because of its large size (Watson op. cit., p. 133). On the Morris clock there is instead a late 18th century bronze bust of a Republican senator, most likely Cicero. As the Roman Republicans were greatly admired by the American founding fathers, it seems reasonable that Morris would order a bust of Cicero to be mounted on the clock.
A similar clock with slightly varying mounts was in the Leopold Double sale, 1881. It is surmounted by an armillary sphere of approximately the same proportions as the bust on Morris' clock.
Jean Antoine Lépine (1720-1814), maître in 1762, was one of the most important Parisian clock makers. He supplied numerous clocks to the court of Louis XVI. His greatest contribution, however, was the watch calibre that bears his name. His radical design broke with a 300-year tradition and ushered in the age of precision timekeeping.
Claude-Pierre Raguet (1753-1810), Lépine's son-in-law, shared premises with him from 1789 and took over his business affairs in 1792. Joseph Coteau (1740-1812) was the most famous enameller of the Louis XVI period. He supplied the dials for several of Lépine's important clocks, for example an astronomical clock (sold from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Franklin N. Groves, Christie's New York, October 15, 1988, lot 40) and a related clock in the British Royal Collections.
Nicolas Petit (1732-1791), maître in 1761, a celebrated ébeniste, he also specialized in making clock cases at his shop "an nom de Jesus" on the rue Saint Antoine.