The Wallace Collection

The Apollo Clock
Detail of the mark of the enameller, Elie Barbezeat, on the back of the dial
Detail of the mark of the enameller, Elie Barbezeat, on the back of the dial
Treasure of the Month - June 2009

The Apollo Clock

This striking, long-case clock is a fine example of the neo-classical style.

Its elegant, tapering case is decorated with gleaming gilt-bronze mounts, including mouldings, rosettes and a double spray of bay leaves, tied with a ribbon bow, above the clock face. The clock is dominated by the large, gilt-bronze mount of Apollo and his chariot, which surmounts the case and for which it serves as a pedestal.

The case was made by Nicolas Petit (1732-1791, master 1761). Petit produced many cases for long-case clocks, which often served as plinths for large sculptural mounts. While no other clock by him bears the Apollo mount you can see here, a long-case clock in the Frick Collection with a case by Balthazar Lieutaud supports a similar group. The mounts of the Frick example are inscribed with the name of the bronzemaker Philippe Caffiéri (1714-1774), indicating that he cast these mounts, and the date 1767. Yet the mounts of the Wallace Collection clock are unlikely to have been cast by Caffiéri as the eight-day, weight-driven movement for this clock was made by Jacques-Joseph Lepaute (called Lepaute de Bellefontaine), who became a master in 1775, a year after Caffiéri’s death. This clock, dating from c.1780, therefore incorporates a mount of earlier design, probably after a model of c.1767. The Apollo mount must derive from Jean-Baptiste Tuby’s gilt-lead sculpture in the Basin of Apollo at Versailles, completed in 1671, and would have been highly recognisable at a glance to viewers in late eighteenth-century France.  Apollo featured on clocks owing to his relation to the times of day.  Interestingly the Apollo fountain also probably inspired the depiction of Apollo in Franois Boucher’s massive paintings ‘The Setting of the Sun’ and ‘The Rising of the Sun’, displayed over the stairs here at the Wallace Collection.

The clock case is extravagantly veneered with exotic woods, mainly tulipwood and satiné (used to band or edge the areas of tulipwood), imported from Brazil. The pendulum of the clock is a compensating pendulum, made from five steel and four brass rods in order to help prevent the clock from losing time (the metals expand and contract at different rates). You may notice that the clock face does not have any winding holes: this is because the movement is wound by pulling the cord, called a Huygens endless cord after the Dutch astronomer and mathematician, Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695).

The clock is probably one of four long-case clocks recorded in the 4th Marquess’ apartment at 2 rue Laffitte, Paris, in 1871. By 1890 it is recorded at Hertford House in a Dressing Room on the floor above the current room.

© Trustees of the Wallace Collection 2009.
Text by Eleanor Tollfree

Gallery Talks
Tuesday 2 and Monday 15 June at 1pm by Eleanor Tollfree in the Boudoir.  

Further Reading

  • Peter Hughes, The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Furniture, London, 1996, Volume I, pp.498-503.
  • Alexandre Pradère, French Furniture Makers: The Art of the Ébéniste from Louis XIV to the Revolution, Sotheby’s Publications, 1989, pp.292-3.