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Extraordinary Empire mantel clock “Le Matelot” after design by Michel

Rare Empire mantel clock “Le Matelot” after design by Pierre Mathieu Augustin Michel

This exceptionally rare and museum quality Empire mantel clock “Le Matelot” (meaning: the sailor) is a true collectors’ piece depicting an allegory of trade. Its gilt bronze case is modeled as a bale of tobacco leaves, against which a young black man holding a cord is leaning casually. Shirtless and barefoot, he turns his head towards the left, holding a pipe in his right hand. On the other side of the bale there is a rum barrel, symbol for goods imported from overseas. The anchor and steering rudder are symbols for seafaring, which is the base for trade. And the large bag with money on top of the bale refers to the profitability of the trade with colonial products.

Further, the octagonal gilt bronze base is adorned with a central bas-relief motif featuring putti occupied with aspects of the trade of goods from colonial countries. One of the putti is rolling a barrel of rum, another one is busy carting a bale of tobacco, and another one is busy counting money and doing administrative work at a desk. On either side there are applied decorations such as a writing pen, measure and scale referring to the same theme. Finally, the base rests on four rum barrel shaped feet, completing the allegory of trade.

The bronze figure is of highest quality in its craftsmanship as well as its artistic design. It is very complex and clearly shows reference to antique forms. The crossed legs, the tilting of the upper body and the turn of the head to the right gives the figure some movement despite its calm position. The muscle tone is very plastic and anatomically correct and the dark patination of the surface adds to the liveliness.

The round enamel dial features Roman numeral hours and Arabic fifteen-minute graduations, indicated by means of two blued steel Breguet style hands. It is signed “Le Roy, hger. de Madame“, referring to Bazile-Charles Le Roy (1765-1839). He was clockmaker to Emperor Napoleon, to Madame Mère, Princess Pauline and Jérôme Bonaparte King of Westphalia.

About the design of this Empire mantel clock “Le Matelot”

On 13 August 1808, Pierre Mathieu Augustin Michel deposited the pen and ink drawing for this clock model at the Bibliothèque Impériale (see last photo). It was titled “Le Matelot” and registered under no. 120 for the year 1808. At this time the model was already being produced, but Michel wanted to register his rights as designer and owner of this model.

As a whole, the style of composition of this clock is that of the Directory period, circa 1795, reflecting the spirit of the late 18th century. The black man as “noble savage” was rarely used as a decorative theme in French or European horological creations before the late 18th century. It was not until the final decade of the 18th century and the early years of the 19th century that the first clocks known as “au nègre “ or “au sauvage” began to appear. They reflect a movement expressed in literary and historical works such as Paul et Virginie by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre which was published in 1787 and depicted the innocence of man. Other works include Atala by Chateaubriand (which restored the Christian ideal) and Daniel Defoe’s masterpiece Robinson Crusoe (published in 1719).

Details of this ormolu mantel clock “Le Matelot”

This museum quality ormolu Empire mantel clock is in an excellent state of preservation with magnificent mercury gilding. The backplate of the movement is stamped “LR PF” and the white enameled dial, signed “Le Roy, hger. de Madame“, shows Roman numerals for the hours and stripes for the minutes.  Further, the movement has blued Breguet steel hands, an anchor escapement, wire suspension and outside count wheel striking the hour and half hours on a bell. Finally, the clock case is stamped with the number 878.

The clock has been serviced by a professional clock maker and is in perfect working condition and comes complete with pendulum, bell and key.

Paris circa 1805.
Dimensions: height: 38 cm, width: 31 cm, depth: 11 cm.
Weight: 7.0 kg.

Bazile-Charles Le Roy (1765-1839)

The clock movement was made by the esteemed maker Bazile-Charles Le Roy (1765-1839). He was the son of the clockmaker Bazile Le Roy (1731-1804). Bazile-Charles founded the House of Le Roy at 60 Galerie de Pierre, Palais-Royal shortly after 1785 when the duc d’Orléans (Philippe Egalité) opened up the Palais-Royal gardens to the public and the buildings to the trade. This enabled Le Roy and a number of other clockmakers to set up shop in the arcade galleries. During the Revolution he worked for the Republic signing his clocks ‘Elyor’. Afterwards he moved the business to Galerie Montpensier, 13-15 Palais-Royal, where the concern was to remain for almost a hundred years.

The following years saw his appointment a clockmaker to Emperor Napoleon, to Madame Mère, Princess Pauline, Jérôme Bonaparte King of Westphalia and in 1829 as royal clockmaker to the ducs de Bourbon and de Chartres. His house exhibited clocks at the Paris Exposition l’an VI (1797/8) and again in 1819, 1823 and 1827.

Literature

  • H. Ottomeyer, P. Proschel et al., ” Vergoldete Bronzen – Die Bronzearbeiten des Spätbarock und Klassizismus“, Munich, 1986, Vol. I, p.380-381 fig 5.15.26.
  • Elke Niehüser, “French Bronze Clocks”, p.142-143 fig. 231, 232 and p.236 #822.
  • Pierre Kjellberg, Encyclopédie de la pendule française, p.342-343 #A.
  • Collection of Musée des Arts et du Design, Bordeaux (inv.nr. MNM.1989.1.1).
  • Collection of Palacio del Tiempo, Atalaya Museums, Jerez de la Frontera.
  • Jean-Dominique Augarde, “A Journey Through Clocks – Masterworks of the Parnassia Collection”, Dijon, 2022, Vol. II p.450-451.
  • G. Wannenes, “Les plus belles pendules françaises de Louis XV à l’Empire”, Edizioni Polistampa, p.315.
  • Tardy, Dictionnaire des horlogers français, p.406-407, 463.

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