The Collection

  - Porcelain-mounted Vernis Martin mantel clock with soft-paste porcelain flowers

Porcelain-mounted Vernis Martin mantel clock with soft-paste porcelain flowers
Paris, Louis XV period, c. 1750

Socle: bronze, chased, gilded
Mounts: bronze, polychrome painting; decorative flowers of soft-paste porcelain
Figures: patinated bronze with polychrome lacquer finish (vernis Martin)
Clock: enamel, brass, glass (signed “Etienne Le Noir A Paris” and numbered “279”)
H. 33 cm (13 in.), W. 30.5 cm (12 in.), D. 15 cm (5 ⅞ in.)
For comparison
London, H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, Royal Collection, inv. no. 30237 (formerly in the Brighton Pavilion); Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. no. OA 10539 (published in Alcouffe, Daniel, Anne Dion-Tenenbaum, and Gérard Mabille. Les bronzes d‘ameublement du Louvre. ijon, 2004., pp. 72f., cat. no. 31)

Literature
Kisluk-Grosheide 2002


The socle of the present piece is a naturalistic, irregular rock formation covered in flowers and leaves. To the right and left stand two bald, barefoot Chinamen dressed in black robes lined in red[1] and decorated with delicate foliate scrolls together with prunus and chrysanthemum blossoms as well as basket-weave patterns, ribbons, and an arrangement of two paddle-shaped fans in gold. The figures hold a large circular clock with their arms, which is additionally supported by a sturdy branch covered in leaves and flowers. The white enamel dial with Roman hour numerals and Arabic minute numerals is signed “Etienne Le Noir A Paris.” The glass is framed by a bezel in the form of a foliate frieze. At the top sits a young girl in similar clothing with her left hand raised; it may be presumed that she originally held a parasol. She is leaning forward and looking down. The clock case is additionally surrounded with luxuriantly blooming sprays of leaves and flowers.

Étienne Le Noir (Paris 1699–1778 Paris, master from 1717) came from a family of clockmakers that had been established in Paris since the sixteenth century. He was regarded as one of the outstanding masters of his guild, although his reputation rested not on novel inventions, but rather on the ability to produce clocks of uniformly high quality in large numbers in his perfectly organised workshop. His products were much sought-after by the Parisian marchands merciers. Many of his clocks came to number among the much-loved “objets d’art,” i.e., conglomerates of various exotic and costly items such as pieces of porcelain and lacquerwork with ormolu mounts. To satisfy the huge demand for luxury goods of this kind, the enterprising marchands merciers sought increasingly to replace expensive export wares with products made in France by creating their own versions of high-priced imports. They drew inspiration from both Far Eastern merchandise and from copperplate engravings depicting life at the court of the Chinese emperor, and had these products made in goût chinois by the best Parisian craftsmen, including the Martin brothers and their workshop. Magots[2] of this kind are often attributed to them. Although no figures of this kind appear in the Martinsf inventory of merchandise, according to Forray-Carlier, other contemporary inventories and registers mention gpagodes de verny de Martin,h[3] for example. Thus, it is highly likely that the present examples can be attributed to the Martin workshops which must have produced large numbers of magot figures, given the demand for such objects.

Chinese figures of this type were made into all kinds of objets d’art, for example, paperweights[4], candelabra[5], and wall lamps[6]. An outstanding clock\also signed by Étienne Le Noir\with magot figures, served as the crowning element of a cartonnier made by B.V.R.B which is now held in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.[7] The quality of the figures is comparable to those of the present clock, and the bronzes are stamped with the gC couronné,h[8] dating the piece to the period between 1745 and 1749.

George Blumenthal (1858–1941) saw himself as a great connoisseur and collector in the eighteenth-century tradition. An immigrant from Germany, he gained a reputation as one of the greatest financiers on Wall Street while working as a foreign exchange trader for Lazard Frères in New York. Together with his wife, Florence Meyer Blumenthal, he devoted himself entirely to art and gave large sums of money to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, becoming its president between 1935 and 1941. He also donated more than 700 works to the museum from his New York residence, including important Italian Renaissance paintings and other early works of art as well as decorative arts objects. However, the Blumenthals collected not only Renaissance art: their Hôtel particulier in Paris was home to a substantial collection of eighteenth century French painting, including works by Fragonard, Boucher, and Watteau, as well as to pieces of important French furniture and objets d’art. Two years after the death of his wife in 1930, Blumenthal gave instructions to the Georges Petit auction house to sell the contents of his Paris mansion. Among the objects to go under the hammer was the present clock.


[1] This can be seen at the hem, the wide sleeves, and the collar.

[2] In eighteenth-century usage, magots generally referred to figures made in a range of different materials and embodying the far-off lands of East Asia as representatives of a foreign, exotic culture.

[3] Cf. Vernis Martin. Französischer Lack im 18. Jahrhundert. Monika Kopplin and Anne Forray-Carlier (eds.). Exh. cat. Museum für Lackkunst Münster, 13 October 2013–12 January 2014. Munich, 2013, p. 54.

[4] Paris, Musée des arts décoratifs, inv. no. RI 2004.13.1 (published in Kopplin/Forray-Carlier, pp. 54f., cat. no. 11).

[5] New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection, inv. no. 1982.60.87 and 1982.60.88.

[6] Private collection, Germany (published in ibid., pp. 55ff., cat.no. 12).

[7] Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, inv. no. 83.DA.280 (published in Wilson, Gillian et al. European Clocks in the J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles, 1996., pp. 78–85, cat. no. XI).

[8] “C couronné” is a tax mark that had to be stamped on all alloys containing copper. Since the tax was only levied between 1745 and 1749, correspondingly stamped pieces can be dated to this period of time.
Provenance: Paris, George Blumenthal Collection

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