The Wallace Collection

Four Continents Pedestal Clock (dated 1720-1725)
Treasure of the Month - July 2008

Four Continents Pedestal Clock (dated 1720-1725)

This clock and pedestal are attributed to Andre-Charles Boulle (1642-1732, master-craftsman before 1666 and Cabinet maker to the King of France from 1672).

They are made of oak veneered with turtle shell and ‘premiere partie’ marquetry of brass and turtleshell, a distinctive technique which Boulle developed and gave his name to. The powerful curves of the gilt bronze mounts on the clock and at the top of the pedestal are coherent with the Regence style prevalent in France in the early 18th century.

The theme of the main mounts on the corners of this clock is the Four Continents, with, from left to right, the figures representing Africa, Europe, Asia and America. On either side two oval medallions, representing an alligator on the left and a horse on the right, allude respectively to America and Europe. The theme of the world is continued by the medallion on the front of the pedestal, showing Hercules relieving Atlas of the globe, after a drawing by Gilles-Marie Oppenord (1672–1742). The interest in the Four Continents developed from the 15th century with the voyages of discovery and the concept was widely represented in engravings and sculpture. It is linked here to the concept of the sun represented by the Apollo mask on a sunburst on the pendulum. Love is represented by Cupid, at the top of the clock, missing his bow and arrow. This theme is found in other clocks by Boulle (see F43 in this gallery) illustrating Love triumphing over Time and was subsequently used by other clockmakers.

The Four Continents clock is part of a group of five clocks of the same model. Three have an oval dial fitted with hour hands that can extend or shorten according to their position on the dial. This clock and one in Waddesdon Manor, have round dials. The movements for these two clocks were made by Louis Mynuel (c.1675-1742) whose name appears on the small enamel plaque below the dial. Such rich and imposing clocks would have been prized by collectors and displayed in one of the state rooms of a house. Although their early provenance is unknown, we know that the clock and pedestal were presented in 1770 to the town of Yverdon, Switzerland, by Monsieur Perrinet de Faugnes, then administrator of the salt works in Franche Comté. In 1866 they were sold to the dealer Barlier for 10,000frs and subsequently bought by the 4th Marquess of Hertford from the Parisian dealer Miallet for 45,000frs in 1866 or early 1867.

Further Reading

  • Chastang, Yannick: ‘Paintings in Wood: French Marquetry Furniture’, The Trustees of the Wallace Collection. 2001.
  • Hughes, Peter: ‘The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Furniture’, 3 vols, The Trustees of the Wallace Collection, 1993

© Trustees of the Wallace Collection 2008.
Text by Christylle Phillips.