This mantel clock, made in Paris around 1772, tells a story about science, the French Revolution, and a marquis’s name. Tracking this story of the clock, however, required some detective work, and correcting a misspelling in its historical record.
If you look at the clock you’ll notice the clock face is set into a bronze vase on a pedestal flanked by two seated women. They are allegorical figures: the woman on the left represents Astronomy, holding a celestial globe; and on the right, holding a rolled map, is Geography. These figures who represent scientific disciplines reflect the renewed interest in science and exploration during the late 1700s.
Designed by bronze caster Étienne Martincourt, the clock stood in the salle du conseil (Council Room) at the Tuileries Palace in Paris, and during the French Revolution, it moved to different buildings in the city for a few years. A lot of royal and noble furnishings and artworks moved around during the revolution. Revolutionaries destroyed some furnishings, but they confiscated and sold many artworks that formerly belonged to the nobility. We’re not sure why this clock wasn’t sold, but since its location was documented during several moves from 1792-1796, there might have been an important reason.
After 1796, the clock disappeared from records. Over sixty years later, in 1861, the clock reappeared at a Paris auction, the first lot in the sale catalog. This 1861 sale catalog includes a detailed description of the clock, yet does not include the seller’s name. Fortunately, some copies show “Marquis de Saint-Cloud” handwritten on the cover.
However, there didn’t seem to be a Marquis of Saint-Cloud. It seemed like such a title did not exist, yet several other sales also sold artworks from this collection. Three mid-1800s Parisian auctions sold Saint-Cloud pieces, in 1861, 1864, and 1874. The printed title of the 1864 sale catalog says that the collection belonged to “M. le Marquis de S.-Cl…” and someone added a handwritten “oud” to complete the name.
As researchers, we look to sale catalogs and other sources of information about an object because they can provide a wealth of information, including owners, purchasers, and prices. We found a clue to the seller’s identity in the 1874 catalog. The catalog says that the collection is of “de feu M. le Marquis de Saint-Clou dont la vente aura lieu par suite de son décès” [“the late Monsieur the Marquis of Saint-Clou, which the sale took place following his death”]. This phrase means that the marquis had died in 1873 or early 1874. Some copies of this catalog have a d handwritten after the printed “Saint-Clou.”
After not finding much in our search for anyone holding the position of Marquis de Saint-Cloud during this time, we turned to colleagues working with the Getty Research Institute’s Provenance Index and had a revelation. We looked at the sale catalogs again, especially the 1874 catalog with the printed name “Saint-Clou.” Perhaps there was a misspelling; perhaps there was a Marquis of Saint-Clou (without a d). Further research led us to Léon-Gabriel Leduc, Marquis de Saint-Clou—no d.
Leduc died in October 1873, which makes sense for the 1874 post-mortem sale. It also made sense that people would later “correct” his name on sale catalogs. Saint-Cloud is a well-known royal château, located six miles west of Paris, that had belonged to the brother of King Louis XIV and later to Marie-Antoinette. It’s plausible that historians mistakenly associated the Saint-Clou family with the château. Also, “Clou” and “Cloud” sound identical in French (the d being a silent letter), and since Saint-Cloud is well-known, some who heard the name may have assumed the incorrect spelling.
More research into this marquis convinced us further that we were on the right track. We discovered a furniture piece that had belonged to Saint-Clou in the same 1861 sale catalog as the clock: “Beau meuble gothique en bois sculpté … aux armes des Cravants d’Humières” [“Beautiful piece of Gothic furniture in carved wood … with the arms of the Cravants d’Humières”]. In our research, we found that Léon-Gabriel Leduc’s second wife inherited the Château de Monchy-Humières (fifty miles north of Paris). The fact that the clock’s sale includes an object with the Humières coat of arms on it strongly indicates that we have found the right person.
This research enabled us to piece together a little bit more about this clock’s life as it moved from owner to owner before coming to the museum. Digging up documentation takes time, but it is rewarding because the information adds to our knowledge of art history and is helpful to art lovers everywhere.