COMPARATIVE CLOCK CASES:
Although it incorporates European mechanisms and shares a number of stylistic features in common with the productions of the celebrated English exporter of musical and automaton clocks James Cox, this clock can be attributed to the Chinese workshops of Guangzhou.
It may be compared with a musical automaton clock from the Ilbert collection in the British Museum, London, with watch movement signed 'William Barker 1943'. This has a similar drum-shaped watch case which also supports a mirror, whilst the main body of the case rests on elephants above a wooden plinth with scroll feet similar to the arrangement on the present example. Another closely related (incomplete) clock appeared at auction at Christie's London, 2 October 1991, lot 84. The drum watch case with side mounts apparently identical to those of the present clock also supports a mirror. That clock also has rhinoceros mounts, albeit not in their original positions. Like the Ilbert clock, the lower section rests on the backs of elephants. Other stylistic elements which the three clocks share include the use of a baluster gallery, dentil cornicing, spiral-fluted corner uprights and lion mask mounts. These clocks have previously been described respectively as being Anglo-Swiss and as having a Continental case, as awareness of the extent of Chinese manufacture has been limited until recent years; in the past many clocks have been attributed to James Cox, for example, which most certainly did not originate in his workshops.
CHINESE AND EUROPEAN CLOCK CASES
The present clock is undoubtedly unusual among Chinese clock cases, although there are two Chinese 'mirror' clocks in the Palace Museum, Beijing (see Lu Yangzhen (senior editor), Timepieces Collected by the Qing Emperors in the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 1995, pp. 79-80). Clearly it shows the design influence of James Cox (c. 1723-1800), most notably in its inclusion of a casket-bureau and the use of rhinoceros feet. The latter may be seen on a Cox clock in the Palace Museum which is also of bureau form and which also incorporates a mirror. The present clock case differs significantly from the work of Cox and his contemporaries (for example, John Drury, maker of a cabinet clock sold Sothebys London, Treasures, 6 July 2010, lot 13) in that the casket/bureau section is formed from sheets of gilded repoussé metal; an English clock of the same period would almost certainly have been formed of gold or gilt-metal cagework over hardstone panels, such as may be seen on the aforementioned Palace Museum Cox mirror clock. Moreover, the casket of a contemporary European clock would probably have opened to reveal accessories, as again may be seen on the Palace Museum clock and also on the elaborate Cox 'Westminster Swan Clock' sold Christie's London, 7 June 2007, lot 125 (£356,000). Further evidence of Chinese manufacture may be seen on the decorative motifs to the sides of the bureau on this clock, where we see an odd interpretation of a coronet arrangement above a musical trophy design which in turn incorporates a banner with 'nonsense' inscription.
When considering Chinese clock cases it is important to recognize that much of the value of clocks for the Chinese derived from their Western-ness. Chinese clockmakers saw Western clock cases and reflected these. And so it is not surprising to see, as on the present clocks, design elements such as neo-classical vases and European profile medallions. Chinese makers would have used such decorations because they identified them as being European and therefore appropriate to clocks. As the clockmaker Mathieu Planchon wrote in the late 18th Century, 'The appearance of a Chinese clock shocks the eye, firstly by the mixture that one encounters of Chinese and European elements' (quoted in Catherine Pagani, Eastern Magnificence and European Ingenuity, Clocks of late Imperial China, Michigan, 2001, p. 152). See for example the stylised neo-classical vase mounts and 'laurel' garland frames on the side of a Chinese musical automaton clock in the Nezu collection (Christie's Hong Kong, Magnificent Clocks for the Imperial Chinese Court from the Nezu Museum, 27 May 2008, lot 1508).
CHINESE MAGNIFICENCE AND EUROPEAN INGENUITY
The inclusion of Western mechanisms in Chinese clocks, as with the present example, is not unusual. Although Chinese workshops were making their own clock and music/automata movements there are many recorded examples of European mechanisms being used instead. See for example a superb ormolu and enamel jardiniere clock sold in the Nezu Collection, lot 1509 and also lots 1513 and 1514 in the same sale; also an elaborate Guangzhou clock with movement by Robert Philp sold Christie's London, 6 July 2001, lot 40. In the Palace Museum collection there is a clock with an English dial (using English words) and movement by William Story set into a Chinese case (see Lu Yangzhen, p. 51). The case of this clock includes a band of turquoise paste gems as does the present clock; this colour appears to have been popular with the Chinese and may be seen on the double-gourd clock in the Nezu Collection (lot 1501) and its 'pair' in this sale (lot 15). Pagani writes of Guangzhou clocks: 'In some instances...the inner workings were imported, which can explain why Cantonese clocks were known for their accuracy' (p. 79). Without doubt, it is the existence of signed European mechanisms -- as in this instance -- in Chinese clocks that has over the years led to many of them being wrongly described as European.