WALL-MOUNTED CLOCK « A L’ENLEVEMENT DE LEDA »

Charles Cressent, cabinet-maker (1685-1767), Guillaume Lombard, engraver and Louis Mynuel, clock-maker (circa 1675-1742)


Paris, Regency period, circa 1720-1725

 

 

Dial and movement signed Mynuel à Paris

 

Original mechanism


Dimensions: Cartel: Height : 38,8 in.; Width: 21,8 in.; Depth: 10,3 in.

                     Base of Cartel : Height: 4,1 in.; Width: 22,8 in.; Depth: 10,7 in.

                     Cartel’s console : Height: 13,8 in.; Width: 20,9 in.; Depth: 10,1 in.

 

Provenance : Jacques-Samuel Bernard, Comte de Coubert (1685-1753)


This violin-shaped clock is of quite monumental proportions. Its casing and base are entirely veneered with panels of Boulle marquetry composed of première and deuxième partie that depict a design à la Berain with characters, insects, scrolling foliated tendrils, vegetation, trellised-leaves, a mask of Apollo and stylised waves executed in brown tortoiseshell and engraved brass. The case is built of three contoured glass panels that house the movement of the clock and the dial with the hours and seconds marked on an engraved copper plate with twelve enamelled panels, the name of the clock-maker appearing on a thirteenth enamel just below the dial.  It is richly adorned with fine gilt bronze engravings: at the summit a putto lies on a bed of clouds holding an hourglass; below this extended mouldings lead down to rams’ heads at the side of the dial and a mask of Mercury with a double caduceus sits above, flanked by two plumed helmets. Two military trophies in bas-relief are on the sides of the case while in the centre below the dial there is a depiction of the abduction of Leda. The two rear Greek-style feet are decorated with the muzzle of a lion and scrolls of acanthus leaves whilst those at the front are of winged female sphinx with a foot placed on a nautilus.

On the two top corners of the base the head of a woman emerges from a swirl of scrolls and at the lowest tip an adornment of acanthus leaves culminates in a seed.

 

Only two other clocks of this type are catalogued, one of which has lost a part of its bronzes and has been entirely covered in a green lacquer (auction at Sotheby’s, London, 6th July 1984, lot 11) and the second, which has not preserved its casing, is in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York illustrated here.


Our clock is the only one which is still to be found in its complete and original state. The fact that it is the work of Charles Cressent is indisputable. On the 17th July 1723 a group from the company of master-founders executed a warrant at his workshop and this incident revealed the existence of several different clocks that were in the process of being completed in that year. Among the witness statements of the bronze-makers used by Cressent one is of particular interest “…Guillaume Lombard, maître fondeur cizeleur à Paris, y demeurant rue des Arcis, paroisse St Jacques de la Boucherie, âgé de vingt-trois ans et demy…déclare qu’il a réparé et cizelé pour le dit Cressent...trois ou quatre garnitures de pendules à Léda et les pieds portez par deux sphinx…”.


Once the various colleagues of Cressent had finished their statements the report presented a detailed inventory of the bronzes observed in the workshop. The scene of the abduction of Leda and its exact location on the piece are referred to with more precision “ …plus deux figures de même façon, représentant Leyda, lesquelles sont pour mettre en-dessous de cadrans, lesquelles figures sont réparées… “. Continuing, other elements of the design appeared, notably “deux sphinx appuyez sur une coquille de rocailles, ornées de leurs aisles et rinceaux de feuilles d’orfan, lesquels sphinx sont finis et ciselés, un desquels sphinx est un modèle… “ ainsi que les “deux têtes de Mercure, sortant de la fonte, aussy imparfaits…”. Moreover, several sketches of children, a rather frequent motif in the work of Cressent, are noted “…plus quatre enfans propre à mettre sur des boistes de pendules, dont deux desdits enfants manque un bras, lesquels enfans sont réparez…”.

The decoration in B oulle marquetry is one of the outstanding features of this piece, a key point in the career of the cabinet-maker. Indeed Cressent’s work is principally known for its richly decorated and engraved veneers and most of the leading museums of the world boast examples. However the use of the Boulle marquetry here is not an isolated case; it seems that he preferred it at the start of his career, at the time when he was in the workshop of Joseph Poitou. In January 1749, a point at which point he was going through some difficulties, he realised that he would have to sell a part of his stock. Lot No. 23 was described as follows “Une magnifique pendulle de marqueterie, d’écaille avec des ornements et figures de bronzes du dernier goût, très bien réparés, plus parfait que toutes celles que l’on voit dans tous les autres magasins, l’on y a exercé tout l’art de la sculpture et de cizelure…elle porte cinq pieds neuf pouces de haut et peut se pendre en l’air à la hauteur ordinaire des autres”. Although the name of the clock-maker is not cited, this description could well fit the clock presented here. In 1749 it was most probably a part of the Comte de Coubert’s prestigious collection, housed in his lavish townhouse on the rue du Bac, property of his wife’s family, the Frotier de La Coste.

 

Jacques-Samuel Bernard (1686-1753) was one of the sons of Samuel Bernard (1651-1739) banker to Louis XIV. He took the title of Comte de Coubert at his father’s death and held posts of the very highest position: parliamentary counsellor in 1707, maitre de requêtes in 1710, surintendant des finances, domaines et affaires de la Reine from 1725, and grand croix et maître des ceremonies de l’ordre royal et militaire de Saint-Louis. He lived extravagantly in his large rue de Bac townhouse, a part of whose sumptuous panelling today belongs to Musée de Jérusalem. The clock displayed in the cabinet adjacent to Jacques-Samuel Bernard’s private apartment was described under No. 393 as “Une pendule faite par Minuel dans une boete et sur son pied en console de marqueterie garni d’ornement de cuivre en couleur 180 livres”. As a major client of Cressent, he must have also entrusted him with a number of orders for certain bronze furnishings that were later detailed as being in the reception rooms of the mansion. Following his death, his inheritors built up debts and were driven to sell the major part of the collection in 1754.

 

The style of Cressent brings together the strength of the bronzes with the elegance of the veneer and is the most unusual found in cabinet-making in 18th century Paris. While André-Charles Boulle was the master of cabinet-making under Louis XIV Charles Cressent (1685-1768) dominated during the Regency period and the start of the reign of Louis XV. He grew up in a family of artists in Amiens; his grandfather was a furniture-maker and sculptor and his father was named Sculpteur du Roy. It is therefore of little surprise that in 1714 Cressent was accepted into the Académie de Saint-Luc as a sculptor. Having been based in Paris for several years the turning point of his career came when he married the widow of Joseph Poitou, cabinet-maker to Duc Philippe d’Orléans and Regent to the Kingdom. He immediately took over the running of the workshop on rue Notre-Dames des Victoires.


His fame established, he also became, like Poitou, the official supplier to the Regent. At the latter’s death, it was his son, Louis d’Orléans, who became one of his principal patrons. Alongside his royal commissions Cressent rapidly developed a wealthy clientele, made up largely of financiers and fermiers généraux such as Marin de la Haye, Bonnier de la Mosson, Crozat, Marcellin de Selle and the family Bernard de Coubert as well as some aristocrats such as the Marquis de Marigny and the Duc de Richelieu. He also boasted a number of clients from the courts of Europe such as King Jean V of Portugal and the Electeur de Bavière Charles Albert.

 

As was the case with the other great Paris cabinet-makers, Cressent surrounded himself with the best craftsmen of the day. For the movements of his clocks he relied most particularly on the Parisian clock-maker Louis Mynuel, an earlier partner of André-Charles Boulle. Mynuel was the son of a Dieppois goldsmith and dealer and settled in Paris at the end of the 17th Century. Widely known for the excellence of the movements that he created, he received the highly-prized title Marchand Horloger Priviligié de Roy suivant la Cour as early as 1705. Several of his clocks were in the collections of the Princes de Condé at Chantilly, the King of Poland Stanislas Leszczinski, the Duc de Mortemart, the fermier général and great collector Randon de Boisset and as his fame spread internationally he received orders from the courts of Parma and Sweden.