François Vion was one of the most important Parisian bronze casters of the second half of the 18th century. Having become a master bronze caster in 1764, he was a rival of the Osmonds and Jean-Joseph de Saint-Germain. He specialized in creating clock cases, several of which bear his signature, particularly those known as ''Venus and Love'' and ''Love and the Three Graces.''

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The design of this magnificent clock was inspired by a preparatory drawing, which appeared in an album of horological pieces which is currently in the Paris Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art. Entitled a ''Pièce de bureau'' (desk piece), the model is identical to an example that the marchand-mercier Simon-Philippe Poirier delivered to Countess Du Barry in the Château de Versailles, on October 4, 1769. The gilding of that piece had been done by François-Thomas Germain (1726-1791).

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Around twenty years later, in April 1787, a second example was included in the posthumous sale of the estate of Nicolas Beaujon, formerly Court Banker and State Counselor: ''415: A clock, movement by Lepaute in Paris, with an antique-colored bronze globe, indicating the hours, which are shown by a Cupid holding an arrow, and is supported by the Three Graces. The whole on a pedestal with scroll consoles and base with gilt bronze rosettes.''

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For many years it was thought that the clock in Fontainebleau Castle was the ''Du Barry'' example. However, several decades ago, it was suggested that the clock ordered by Countess Du Barry in 1769 may be one of the rare identical models known. One such example, also signed ''Lepaute à Paris'', was first in the collections of the Countess de Crisenoy de Lyonne, and then in that of Monsieur and Madame Djahanguir Riahi, which was sold at Christie's, New York, November 2, 2000.

Lepaute à Paris

This signature corresponds to the association of two of the most talented clockmakers of the second half of the 18th century. Officially founded in October 1758 by two brothers, Jean-André Lepaute (1720-1789) and Jean-Baptiste Lepaute (1727-1802), both having received the title of ''clockmaker to the King'', they were to have extraordinary careers. In 1775, after Jean-André’ retirement, Jean-Baptiste went into partnership with two of his nephews; the firm continued in business until 1792. The Lepaute workshop was extremely prolific; they earned the titles of Clockmakers to the King, Clockmaker to the Duke de Bourbon and Clockmaker to Monseigneur, the Count d’Artois and worked with the finest artisans of the time: the sculptors Houdon and Clodion, the gilder François Rémond and the chasers Osmond, Saint-Germain and Thomire. In France, they worked for the Garde-Meuble of the Crown and for many important personalities who were close to the royal family. Their fame quickly grew and they received important commissions from foreign collectors, including Prince Charles de Lorraine and Queen Louisa-Ulrika of Sweden.
The ''cercles tournants'' dials, composed of two superimposed rings decorated with stylized motifs in oval medallions and diamonds centered by four leaf clovers, alternate with rectangular and square enamel cartouches that are marked with the Roman numeral hours and Arabic numeral minutes. The movement is housed in a lidded urn with squared fretted handles, which is decorated with delicate leaf garlands and is surmounted by a winged Cupid, wearing a headband. The seated Cupid holds an arrow in his left hand, which he uses to indicate the time. The vase is supported by three magnificent female figures with upswept hair, who are wrapped in antique draperies that are suspended from the vase. They women, who symbolize the Three Graces, hold rose garlands. They stand on a shaped architectural plinth supported by four consoles, which are decorated with branches and volutes, and feature olive branches and rectangles with sloping tops that are separated by rosettes and are centered by rosettes. The motifs of the front panel, which is signed ''LEPAUTE A PARIS,'' hide the winding hole. The similarly shaped base is decorated with a laurel torus.

Where are the other clocks now?

Jean-Baptiste and Jean-André Lepaute (clockmakers) and François Vion (bronze caster) “Three Graces” Clock, Paris, circa 1775New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art (Rogers Fund 1941) Jean-Baptiste and Jean-André Lepaute (clockmakers) and François Vion (bronze caster)
“Three Graces” Clock, Paris, circa 1775
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art (Rogers Fund 1941)

The few known identical clocks are nearly all in international public collections. One such piece, having belonged to General Moreau, who lived in the rue d’Anjou, is in the Musée national du Château de Fontainebleau (illustrated in the exhibition catalogue Dans les rêves de Napoléon, La première chambre de l’Empereur à Fontainebleau, Château de Fontainebleau, October 15, 2016 – January 23, 2017, p. 71, catalogue n° 16). A second example is in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto (illustrated in French Clocks in North American Collections, The Frick Collection, 1982-1983, p. 80-81). A third is in the Huntington Collection in San Marino, California (illustrated in French Art of the Eighteenth Century at The Huntington, 2008, p. 144, catalogue n° 43). A fourth clock is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (Rogers Fund 1941/Inv.41.41). A fifth example, also signed Lepaute et Vion, is in the Louvre Museum in Paris (see Christian Baulez’ article in the exhibition catalogue Pierre Gouthière, ciseleur-doreur du roi, The Frick Collection, New York, 2016, p. 33, fig. 5). One further clock in polychrome porcelain, produced by the Royal Sèvres Manufactory, is in the Geneva Musée d’Art et d’Histoire (see Tardy, La pendule française, 2ème Partie: Du Louis XVI à nos jours, Paris, 1975, p. 291, fig. 1).

This magnificent timepiece has come to the market for the first time since 1989 at Paris' La Pendulerie, a specialist dealer in antique horology and exceptional decorative bronzes. Discover more from the collection here.

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