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The Art of the Garden

Vincennes porcelain factory (1738-56)

The Sunflower clock c. 1752

Soft-paste porcelain, gilding, green-lacquered brass wire (for the stems), gilt bronze mounts | 105.4 x 66.7 x 54.0 cm (whole object) | RCIN 30240

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A gilt bronze clock in the form of a sunflower, mounted into the centre of a Vincennes porcelain urn shape vase containing a bouquet of flowers, also of Vincennes porcelain, on stems of green laquered brass wire.


The clock face is formed by brass shavings and gold-painted bars for figures: the hours are in roman numerals and the minutes, in multiples of five, in arabic numerals. The pendulum regulation hole is above and to the right of I, and the winding holes are without III and VII.

The movement, which has circular plates, is powered by two going barrels which are larger than the barrel wheels. This unusual movement has an articulated cross escapement driving a short pendulum hung on silk. The pendulum is set in motion by operating a lever at the base of the clock. The count-wheel is of traditional design striking the hours and half-hour on a bell below the movement. Jean Benoît Gérard (d.1781) became a maître in 1743 but continued to work with his father, Benoît II until he died in 1758. He retained his father's signature and was listed as having premises on the quai des Grands Augustins (1746) and the rue Saint André-des-Arts (1772). He wound up the business in 1777.

The ensemble is essentially a curiosity. The clock is surrounded by porcelain flowers on stems, which have the appropriate leaves for their flower. Natural flowers were sometimes mingled with the porcelain examples, and as the porcelain bouquet surrounding the clock can be entirely removed, it is possible that the porcelain flower stems were placed in the vase over the winter, to be replaced with real specimens during the summer months. 

The vessel is an elaborately scrolled, asymmetrical terrace in gilt bronze, the Vincennes vase, with painted scenes recalling those of early Meissen porcelain.

The original piece was enhanced in the early nineteenth century. The additions include the gilt bronze snake handles, the twin-branch candelabra, the drum supporting the vase and an assortment of later porcelain flowers of German and English origin.

Of particular interest is the jewelling on the vase, which in places can be seen to overlay the original Vincennes painted insects and moths.

Notwithstanding these enrichments, the assemblage retains much of its former glory and remains an astonishing creation, to which potters at Vincennes, bronze manufacturers and a clock-maker all contributed.

Text adapted from French Porcelain for English Palaces, Sèvres from the Royal Collection, London, 2009 and Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden, London, 2015.