The case of this clock is attributed to Claude Galle, (1759-1815), a bronzier and gilder working in Paris. No other bronzier in Paris obtained as many royal commissions as Galle. After the French Revolution, Galle continued to produce numerous pieces for Napoleon Bonaparte, including an order for the Chateau of Saint-Cloud. In the early C19th, Galle participated in the refurnishing of ALL the royal palaces, including Napoleon's residences in Italy.
By this time, the Galle firm had become one of the largest in Paris, with 400 workers. Their craftsmen made this sort of case for clocks of course, but also for ewers and vases.
The Empress clock, made in Paris in 1805,
82 cm high
Sotheby’s believes that DeBelle’s talents were bought to the notice of the Emperor Napoleon when he supplied two vase clocks to his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, King of Naples and Spain. Similar to Josephine’s clock except for the singing bird, the other two vase clocks are now in Madrid National Museum.
In any case, Napoleon and Josephine were married in 1796 and were crowned Emperor and Empress of France in 1804. In 1805 Napoleon asked DeBelle to make an automaton clock as a gift to the Empress and one year later the clock was delivered. She must have loved it since the clock remained with her at Malmaison, following her divorce from the Emperor. After her death in 1814, her property went to the children of her first marriage, Eugene and Hortense. And DeBelle supplied the Emperor Napoleon with many art objects for the Grand Trianon, where Napoleon later lived there with his next wife Marie Louise of Austria.
Clearly both artisans received commissions from European nobility.
The Empress Clock was tall (82cm) and made of a rich range of materials - the Sotheby’s catalogue mentions ormolu on the bronze, painted brass, steel, glass and stained peacock feathers. The tapered body was painted to resemble veined marble, the upper section and neck applied with finely chased mounts representing Arts and Science. The enamel dial within a frieze of rams and cornucopias was flanked by crisply cast eagles attacking serpents, which formed part of the scroll handles.
When the clock struck, an automaton bird appeared, flapped its wings and opened its beak - its breast feathers trembling - as it selected one of three tunes played by pipe organ. DeBelle ingeniously concealed the movement that operates both upper and lower automata sections of the clock.
No wonder the clock sold for £825,000 (USA $1.3 million) in July 2011.
Now a lovely comparison, smaller but from the same era.
DeBelle mantel clock, made in Paris c1806,
37 cm high
Richard Redding Antiques in Zurich had a very fine Empire gilt and brown patinated mantle clock of eight day duration, signed on the white enamel dial Lefevre suc De Belle à Paris. The dial had Roman numerals and outer Arabic numerals for the days of the month and a fine pair of gilt brass hands for the hours and minutes. The blued steel pointer was used for the calendar.
The movement had anchor escapement and silk thread suspension, striking on the hour and half-hour with an outside count wheel. The architectural case had a stepped rectangular top with overlapping stiff leaf cornice and the dial was surmounted by an egg-and-dart moulded arch terminating in Apollo masks and stylised branch and dragon spandrels. The glazed panel was used for viewing the pendulum bob flanked by husk-festooned torchères, the sides with arched glazed panels surmounted by triangular pediment mounts and flanked below by amphora. The whole object was placed on a stepped base, centred by an applied mount with vase, dragons and flanking rosettes, on bun feet.