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French 18th century furniture, clocks, lighting, paintings, porcelain, sculpture and tapestries


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Superb Dihl et Guerhard porcelain, ormoulu and acajou mantel clock

Very fine and probably unique Dihl et Guérhard porcelain biscuit and glazed porcelain clock with superb ormoulu mounts on an unusual acajou base. Flanking biscuit figures sit below the clock movement: “Fortitude” or  la Force (she wears a helmet and armor while holding Hercules’s club and sitting on the Nemean lion’s skin) and “Prudence” or la Prudence (she holds the mirror of self-knowledge). The dial is surmounted by a biscuit figure of the eagle of Zeus with a thunderbolt in its claws, a reference to the Roman Empire. The clock body is enameled with a pale “Wedgwood” blue glaze. [The arm and the hand holding the mirror restuck. Eagle restored. One reserve in frieze restuck.]

The superb mounts include fine moldings and include an unusual plaque under the dial depicting Peace with her attribute the cornucopia. She is sitting on a block under an olive tree (symbolizing peace and reconciliation) and at her feet a wolf and a lamb lie together (a biblical reference to peace). Fasces (symbolizing the strength of the many when unified) are entwined with a snake (a symbol of wisdom) and an oak bough (a symbol of leadership, power and strength.) The fasces were more a revolutionary symbol than one of the ancien régime or of the fully developed Empire style.

The central rectangular ormoulu scrolled frieze mount, which symbolizes the Four Seasons, centers on Apollo framed by the zodiac. Associated with the sun, he is the god of light, harmony, the arts and sciences. There are representations of the hardships of Winter and the rewards of Autumn at the ends of the relief, (possibly symbolizing the good that can come after struggle) and two small female heads in scrolls symbolizing Spring (with flowers in her hair) and Summer (with sheaths of grain in her hair.)  The frieze plaques are very much in the style of the ornemaniste Henri Salembier (Paris 1753 - 1820), who worked for Dihl et Guérhard as well as its predecessor manufactory, Angoulême. Relief masks of Flora, symbolizing flowers, spring and rebirth are inset into the frieze flanking the relief. 

Movement signed:  “Schmit à Paris”
Dial signed: “G.M.” - Georges-Adrien Merlet

The porcelain, although unmarked, was almost certainly made by Dihl et Guérhard, the successors to the manufactory owned by the duc d’Angoulême. Régine de Plinval de Guillebon has documented the existence of biscuit groups depicting “la Force”, “la Prudence” as well as an eagle made at this factory by their chief sculptor, Charles Gabriel Sauvage, called Lemire. Both the Fortitude and eagle figures were noted as being for clocks. (See: La Manufacture de Porcelaine de Guérhard et Dihl dite du duc d’Angoulême, the French Porcelain Society journal of 1988, Vol. IV, where she lists known figures, groups and clocks from the factory. Pages 17-21.)

 Jean-Nicolas Schmit was the sole clockmaker Angoulême and Dihl et Guérhard appear to have used. Although some models were used by both manufactories, when made during the Angoulême period, the clocks always seem to have been labeled “Angoulême”, and at least one clock hand would have terminated in a fleur de lis. This places the manufacture of the clock after the Revolution, although possibly designed before.

Inventory mark: “St. L.  N°. 5.” (Stamped on the top of the rear bezel.)

The inventory mark refers to the royal château de Saint-Leu. The Orléanist duc de Chartres, later known as Philippe Égalité, acquired it from Nicolas Beaujon in 1780. Madame de Genlis, as gouverneur (a title reserved for a male teacher), raised the duke’s children there for eight months a year, including the future king, Louis Philippe. She started her régime in 1781 and continued until 1792. In 1804, Napoleon’s brother, Louis Bonaparte and his wife, Hortense de Beauharnais, Josephine’s daughter, became the owners. In 1816, after the First Empire, it was owned by Louis VI Henri de Bourbon-Condé, the Prince de Condé. The château was destroyed in 1830.

The clock, certainly not a stock object, must have been commissioned by one of the owners of the château de Saint-Leu. The style, more Louis XVI than Empire, might indicate that Philippe Égalité was the first owner, and that it was ordered between 1789 and 1793, the year he was guillotined. The idealistic iconography, with female allegorical figures, would certainly have meshed with the leadership virtues the feminist Madame de Genlis was trying to instill in her pupils, but life after the revolution was probably too hectic to think of ordering clocks. Also, the hostility between Philippe Égalité and the Count d’Artois would probably have precluded the purchase of objects from his manufactory.

Both Josephine and her daughter patronized Dihl et Guérhard. The inventory mark is associated with the ownership of Louis Napoleon and his wife, Queen Hortense. (See: Osenat auction of April 1, 2012, lot 40, for a pair of candelabra marked “St. L. No. 7”, identical in form to the clock’s inventory mark, but with a different number. Interestingly, the candelabra were also much more Louis XVI in feeling than Empire.) The sale was property from the Maison Pietri de L'Ile-Rousse, built by the personal secretary of Napoleon III, Jean-Baptiste Franceschini-Pietri, to house a collection devoted to memorabilia of the imperial family. Napoleon III was the youngest son of Louis Napoleon and Reine Hortense.

A famous medal by Pierre Simon Benjamin Duvivier commemorating the treaty of Campo-Formio in 1797 shows Napoleon holding an olive branch for la Paix aloft while figures of la Prudence and la Force lead his rearing horse, showing that he led the Italian campaign (considered the last of the Revolutionary wars) with heroism - as well as restraint - leading to peace. Over him flies an allegory of Victory - holding in her right hand a laurel crown and in her left, a statue of the Apollo Belvedere, duplicating the Apollo imagery in the clock’s central frieze. Thus, in this medal and the clock, one sees nearly identical iconography bringing together all the themes that Bonaparte's various early propaganda efforts had stressed: Bonaparte as triumphant general, as prudent statesman, as peace-maker, and as patron of the arts.

Height (ins.): 22½      Length/Width (ins.): 31½      Depth (ins.): 7
Origin: France, early 19th century     Period: Neo-Classical



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