Last updated on April 20, 2021
This article contains information and photos on my recently acquired Régence or early Louis XV era cartel clock, by the celebrated maker Julien Le Roy. I purchased the clock from an auction house in Lyon, and it was just delivered two days ago, on a cold and snowy February day. The shipping company, MBE Lyon, did a marvelous job packing the clock and its components securely and professionally, and it suffered no damage in the shipment by UPS. The packaging and shipping costs were considerable, but in this case it was money well spent.
I attach below photos from the auction house listing, to give an idea of the clock. I will be posting my own photos as I continue to proceed with the clock’s disassembly, inspection, conservation and repairs. My intent is certainly to aim for a conservation rather than full restoration approach as this clock, in part due to the maker, has undeniable historical importance.
If you are not familiar with Julien Le Roy, you may want to have a look at the article I published in 2020 on his lesser-known brother, Pierre-François. The article also deals with Julien and provides much relevant information about his origins, life and career.
Definition of cartel d’applique. A “cartel” designates objects or frames that terminate in a point. Cartels often decorate wooden cabinets. In decorative arts, the cartel refers to the frame of a clock (pendulum or spring-wound) fixed to the surface of a wall, and that terminate in a point at the bottom. Usually, cartels constitute the clock part per se, with decorative feet, which sits upon a base called a “cul-de-lampe” (literally, ass-of-lamp), which is affixed to the wall. These cul-de-lampes are usually very decorated, and matching the clock decorations (gilded bronze sculptures, parquetry or marquetry) and terminates in a pointed lower part. (See meubliz.com for more information and definitions related to antique furniture).
Below is a photo of the bronze figure in the center front of the cartel, in front of the glass and under the dial. The rather large and elaborate bronze proved a bit of a challenge to identify, as it doesn’t appear to be very common in French cartels from that era. The figure represented is actually a Greek mythological goddess, Ceto (or Keto, from the Greek Ketos meaning “sea monster”). Ceto was the daughter of Gaia and Pontus, and together with her brother Phorcys, begat several sea monsters. She is shown in this sculpture sitting atop a sea monster, and holding a trident used to tame the beast.
Why a cabinet maker and clock maker of the Regency period would choose such a deity for the front of a clock is a bit of a mystery, but perhaps this is related to the popular subject at the time of using horology to determine longitude at sea, thereby taming the “sea monsters” that would result in many lost ships and death of sailors, through not knowing their longitude or position at sea. Even though this cartel is not a marine clock obviously, the spirit of horology promised to make advances in this area, and perhaps this is why Ceto was used in this representation.
12 March 2021 – update
The disassembly and inspection continues, slowly and carefully. The socle (base) has been put aside for attention later, as has the movement. I’m focusing on the main violin-shaped clock case (the shape was characteristic of the Regency and early Louis XV period, and replaced the more straight lines found in Louis XIV clocks, some of them referred to as “Pendule religieuse”. The case has a few missing bits of veneer which will need to be replaced, though some of these are hidden underneath the bronzes. I am awaiting a piece of suitable veneer from a generous man who restores these old French clocks.
All the gilded bronze and brass mouldings were then removed for separate cleaning. Great care needs to be taken to not damage the moulding or the adjacent veneer, and to preserve all the old nails for reinstallation.
The dial assembly was separated from the movement, and also taken apart for cleaning the gilded parts, and inspection. Interestingly, Julien Le Roy’s signature is inscribed with an engraver on the dial plate, under the center porcelain cartouche which has his name and also displays his belonging to the “Société des Arts”. For the best overview in English of this Société, of which Julien was a founding member in 1728, see Monica Bertucci’s award winning book “Artisanal Enlightenment” (2017).
Below is a photo of the beautiful chapter ring, which holds in place the individual porcelain hour markers. Notice the hand-engraved individual minute markers inscribed all around the circumference. Already, without any cleaning of it, the gilding displays an attractive golden luster. Very little can replace the quality and beauty of finely gilded French bronzes from the 18th century. Especially since these were finely sculptured, cast in a foundry, chased meticulously, then gilded with a mercury-based process. I always treat these gilded objects (found in fine clocks, watches of the era) with great respect. Not just because of their lasting beauty, but because of the realization that the workers who applied the mercury-gold paste, and later burned off the mercury in the forge, were known to have seriously diminished lifespan, due to ingestion and eventual poisoning from the mercury fumes, and ingestion by the skin. Their fine work lives on in delightful and yet functional objects like this.
Some photos of the original Julien Le Roy movement, which is in outstanding condition, and was running before the tension was taken off the mainsprings. The escapement is most unusual, and is being investigated. It may actually be an experimental design from the mind of Julien Le Roy himself, as it’s known that in 1720, he was working with a member of the Académie des Sciences, Saurin, to come up with a better escapement for clocks. Close-up photos of the escapement wheel and escapement pallets are provided. The movement looks almost as if it’s hardly been touched, and certainly not abused by previous clock repair persons, as is often the case with old clocks.
An illustration of one of gilded “espagnolettes” (female figurines that cover the lower four corners of the clock case, and constitute the clock feet). Before and after gentle cleaning in warm water and dish soap, with a good deal of rubbing with a toothbrush. The original gilding comes out nicely, with just a touch of patina which I like to retain. Other cleaning processes involving ammonia and other products, restore the very bright original gold colour, but I prefer to keep a bit of the historical patina on this clock, wherever possible. I’m vying throughout for more of a “conservation” than “restoration” approach. Also shown is the Ceto bronze described earlier in this post, after the similar cleaning.
For a very interesting 12 minute video showing how such gilded bronze decorations were produced under Louis XV, you are suggested to watch this informative video by the Frick Collection on Pierre Gouthière, a master gilder who was working a few decades after my clock was made. The various steps in coming up with a gilded decorative bronze are very well demonstrated in the video by current artisans:
Style Régence (Regency Style)
Text from here and there on the internet describing the features of the Regency style (of which the Julien Le Roy cartel is an example of) / Texte d’ici et là sur internet décrivant les éléments du style Régence (dont ce cartel Julien Le Roy est un exemple):
Le style Régence est parfaitement représentatif d’une époque de transition entre deux âges et même entre deux mondes. Ce n’est plus Versailles qui gouverne, mais Paris qui fait son monde. De son palais royal, Philippe d’Orléans régente la France de 1715 à 1723 et contribue à la création d’un nouveau goût. La mode, qui n’était suivie que par la cour et les grands bourgeois, impose à présent ses caprices à tous, anciens et nouveaux riches (ces derniers apparaissent avec le système Law). Ce style est un état d’esprit introduit dans une recherche nouvelle d’intimité, de confort et de qualité de vie. Au plan de l’architecture d’intérieure, les pièces se réduisent dans un souci de confort et d’intimité. L’usage des cabinets et des appartements de commodité se généralise. Par conséquent, les meubles deviennent plus petits, plus maniables et plus nombreux (apparitions des petits salons, des boudoirs, des cabinets à écrire, des salons de musique…). Sous l’influence des femmes, leurs formes s’assouplissent, les meubles deviennent raffinés et élégants. En opposition à la représentation omniprésente du pouvoir du règne précédent, la commodité est la grande invention de la régence. Ce qui amène tout naturellement le mobilier à suivre la même tendance. Le style Régence casse le lien centenaire qui reliait l’architecture au mobilier. Ce style comporte des lignes grasses, les formes sont plantureuses, formes arrondies et confortables sous l’influence des femmes.
– Apparition des formes galbées.
– Parfaite symétrie des décors.
– Animaux et personnages inspirés d’Orient (Chinoiserie).
– Utilisation des bois exotiques en frisage.
– Invention du frisage en bois debout.
– Invention du Vernis Martin.
Ornementation : après la force, la grâce. Les ornements restent parfaitement symétriques, mais les courbes tendent vers plus de souplesse et évoluent vers des formes plus complexes.
Les bronzes. Ils sont omniprésents et sont de très grande qualité. Leur fonction première est l’ornementation, mais ils continuent à ajouter une utilisation pratique : protéger les arêtes vives, les extrémités de pieds… Ces bronzes sont dorés au feu ou au mercure. Ils sont souvent recouverts d’un vernis couleur or.
Le frisage de différentes essences de bois de fil fut souvent appliqué sur la surface des meubles. Puis le placage en bois de bout apparut vers 1720 environ (ailes de papillon)
14 March 2021 – update
A few more photos are provided from my initial inspection of the clock and its components, as they came out of the boxes shipped from France. A few of the dial hour cartouches got loose during shipping but no damage was done to them, or any of the porcelain and glass panels. The clock was packed very securely in two stout boxes with lots of carefully used foam and cardboard packaging. The movement started ticking as soon as I removed the foam peanuts that had found their way between its two plates.
The inside of the back door features an attractive marquetry that will look much nicer once polished and shellac’d. Inside most of the decorative bronzes are inscribed the letters “FG”, which I assume could mean “Fonderie G….” (foundry, and first letter of founder’s name). There were several known founders whose names started with G at the time, so more research will be needed to identify which foundry produced these wonderful bronzes (which then went to qualified chasers, and finally gilders and polishers). One of the more famous foundry families was Gambier (Jean-Baptiste, Jean-François, and Claude, in particular). In addition to being founders, these were also chasers and gilders. Other possible G names include: Guerin, Felix Gosselin (sculpters); François Gosson (founder); François Girardon (sculpter). These names come from the book “Les ébénistes du XVIIIe siècle, du Comte François de Salvestre”.
Du site: https://www.atelier-mhp.com/fr/techniques-marqueterie-boulle/
A noter: ces étapes sont à un meuble de marqueterie Boulle. Dans le cas de mon cartel, certaines des étapes ne s’appliquent pas, car mon meuble consiste en parqueterie de placage. Les étapes principalement applicables sont indiquées.
Les étapes de restauration d’un meuble Boulle
. Démontage et remontage des bronzes. (applicable)
. Traitements contre les parasites. (pas de signe, heureusement)
. Recollage et consolidation du bâtit. (applicable)
. Enlèvement des vieux vernis. (applicable)
. Nettoyage des fonds. (applicable)
. Prises d’empreintes des morceaux manquants (laiton, écaille, étain…).
. Découpage des morceaux manquants sur machine Colombo ou à arbalète.
. Recollage de l’ensemble sous vide avec des colles traditionnelles réversibles.
. Polissage léger. (applicable)
. Gravure des marqueteries neuves au burin.
. Mises en teinte de la gravure.
. Polissage de finition 4000.
. Finition vernis au tampon, synthétique, cire cristalline. (applicable)
. Nettoyage des bronzes dans un bac à ultra-sons et finitions (dorures, vernis). (applicable)
17 March 2021 – update
The topmost part of the clock, which fits onto the main clock case through 4 posts, and holds the rather heavy top brass sculpture of Danae and the Eagle, was disassembled as the wood parts need to have cracks repaired and be reattached where the 300 year old glue has let go. In essence, it was the bronzes and mouldings that held the whole thing together, sort of. Every moulding was carefully labeled and nails kept separate for each one, for ease of re-assembly post cleaning and repair.
The wood base was repaired (cracks) and re-glued (using some 5 minute epoxy glue for areas where clamping was not possible, and some carpenters glue to hold the top and bottom parts together; hide glue was not used for this particular part of the clock repair, which was a conscious decision). The original, dirty and tarnished shellac was removed using ethanol, and the more beautiful grain is evident in the last photo, compared to the first photos below. The wood veneer will be properly refinished with shellac before the bronze parts are reinstalled (after cleaning of course). Some wood putty has been inserted into the holes for the nails holding the bronze elements, to provide a more secure seating for the nails.
18 March 2021 – update
On the topic of glues, and how to deal with these aspects of the restoration / conservation / preservation of an item such as this clock, there are different schools of thought. One says that in making any repairs, one should ONLY use the type of adhesive used at the time the item was made (ie. hide/animal glue or equivalent). Another says that we should use what best works among the various options available to us today, and mindful about the kind of environment the item will spend its life in. In my case, I live in a nordic country where such antique objects (clocks, furniture, guitars, etc.) are subject to central heating for 5-6 months of the year, resulting in a dry environment for the wood in these objects. As someone experienced in such restoration has told me, hide glue has much reduced MTBF (mean time before failure) than do our modern wood glues, epoxy glues, etc. The reversibility of hide glue is certainly an advantage, as long as one expects to have to take apart the pieces of wood sometime in the future. Also some of the more modern adhesives have some reversibility as well.
My choices for this project, and future ones of this kind, are also guided in part by the 1995 book from the British Horological Institute, entitled “Conservation of Clocks and Watches” (Peter B Willis Ed.). The excerpt from page 58 below summarizes well my reasoning and approach on addressing some of the finish and adhesive issues on my early eighteenth century cartel clock.
(More to come…)