We have already mentioned this type of suspended clocks, known as “baker’s clocks”, in the comments on the Sotheby’s Paris sale of February 16, 2013, which featured one. Attributed to Guimard, it had sold for €10,000, probably the highest price obtained for one of these clocks. We were then convinced that it was not from Guimard.
Some research over several years now allows us to better identify these objects. By observing the examples attributed to Guimard, we can easily divide them into two categories: large models with a metal case and small models with an earthenware case.
Although sometimes different from each other, the examples we know of have a number of common elements, specific to baker’s clocks, which give them a family feel. Their chains have similar links alternating a round link and a flat rectangular scalloped link. In the centre of this chain a large central link or a neo-Louis XV motif is used for wall mounting.
The ends of the chain are inserted on gilded bronze decorative elements. These side elements, which are symmetrical to each other, are completed by an apical and a basal element, and are attached to a clock case. The enamelled metal dials always have Arabic numerals and on most of the examples the hands are similar or close together.
Among these large models (height 45 or 47 cm, width 38 cm) there is a barometer, designed to match the clock.
All the large models are mounted on copper clock cases affecting the shape of a simple cylinder.
As a result of a probable reassembling error, one of the examples we know of has its top and bottom metal decorative elements inverted in relation to the others. All the dials (except for one which has been re-done) have identical decoration with a crown of small leaves blending in with the minute dots and have similar numerals. Some have inscriptions such as “PARDIEU/Agen”, “G. CUSPINERA/BARCELONA” and “À LA GERBE d’OR/A.”. Simonin/Grenoble ” which are names of jewellers-watchmakers resellers. In the latter case, the company name ” À LA GERBE d’OR ” ( i.e. Golden sheaf) is not, as one might think, that of a bakery, but that of a chain of jewellery shops established in many French towns and whose main shop is in Paris, rue de Rivoli. We can also see that they were exported as far as Catalonia, a land favourable to Art Nouveau as we know it.
The four metal decors of the small models (width approx. 27 cm, height approx. 34 cm) are completely different from those of the large models. They are always mounted on a round and curved earthenware case with a cut-out at the front for the dial and another one at the back for the passage of the mechanism. These cases are special orders placed with a ceramist. One of the known examples belonged to the collection of the Macklowe Gallery in New York (2004). Its notice indicated that the case came from the Keller & Guérin earthenware factory, a large artistic ceramic factory in Lunéville, near Nancy. Another copy was sold by Ader at the Hôtel Drouot on June 14, 2013.
More recently, a small model with earthenware identical to that of the Macklowe Gallery was sold at Drouot’s.
It is quite obvious that the attributions to Guimard that have flourished about these clocks have been based only on the appearance of the decorative elements fixed on the cases. Without them, the object loses all Art nouveau character because nothing, neither in the decoration patterned with small leaves on the dial, nor in the design of the numerals, nor in the shape of the hands, indicates a participation of Guimard in its design. Only the earthenware with floral decoration on the small models attest to an Art Nouveau influence, in the movement of the École de Nancy.
On the other hand, the complex shapes of the metal decorations, asymmetrical, moving and continuous, have a real elegance and are visibly inspired by Guimard’s style. But they nevertheless present a more naturalistic aspect, evoking rather intertwined branches, moving away from Guimard’s decorative motifs at all stages of his stylistic evolution.
Above all, it is not Guimard’s habit to add adventitious elements of his own making to manufactured objects already bearing their own decor. His creations are always a complete reconstruction of the object to be designed.
During a sale of a similar clock at Drouot in the 1990s, legend has it that this type of clock could be found in the Metro pavilions built by Guimard or in other Metro stations. While it is likely that the CMP has installed clocks in its ticket offices, it is hard to imagine that it displayed such artistic models that are so easy to steal. So far, no mention of such clocks has been found in the RATP archives, nor any old photographs proving their presence in the metro. While mentioning in its notices that the object is « After Guimard », the Ader auction house has continued to peddle this legend, stating: « According to several written documents, identical versions of this clock, made in very large format, would have appeared in the Paris Metro at the beginning of the 20th century » (sales of 14 December 2011, 25 May 2012 and 14 June 2013). And to further substantiate this filiation, the photographs cut out of the clock and barometer from the 14 December 2011 sale are superimposed on reproductions from the Castel Béranger portfolio. Only one auction house — Christie’s — mentioned that the clock was « After a design by Hector Guimard » for the sale on 11 February 2003 in London. But at its sale in London on 29 October 2009, Christie’s forgot this precaution and gave the full attribution to Guimard. The small model sold by Leclère at Drouot in January 2017 was more cautious, « Guimard in taste ». Should we see the effect of the first version of this article on our site?
One of our correspondents in Belgium, Mr. Jean-Luc Delval, has enlightened us on the approach of the manufacturer of these clocks by providing us with these photos of the front and back of a small model clock with a different decor:
One immediately notices the similarity in the construction of this clock with the pseudo « Guimard » clocks that concern us. And one understands that the manufacturer has obviously not limited himself to the Art Nouveau style. He also assembled clocks in other styles. This one, neo-baroque, reminds us of the presence on some Art nouveau style clocks of the neo-Louis XV motif of the wall mounting.
Unfortunately, the logo engraved on the back of the mechanism does not give us a precise indication as to its origin, nor does the earthenware bear a mark.
In fact, there were many more of these baker’s clocks of various styles than there were Art Nouveau clocks. We can easily find some on the Internet, from the same manufacturer, such as this one (unsold on eBay at €380 on September 29, 2013) which has the same earthenware case as the one from the Ader sale, Paris, on June 14, 2013,
or this one with an octagonal earthenware case.
Other manufacturers have produced baker’s clocks in the same vein, often less luxurious. But it is only very recently, thanks to other correspondents who sent us photos, that we were finally able to identify their main producer.
First of all, one of our contacts sent us a close-up view of the mechanism of her clock.
The engraved logo was the same as the one on Mr. Delval’s clock.
We then interviewed Michael Schrader, one of our German members, who is a collector of Art Nouveau clocks. He immediately identified the brand as being that of the mechanism manufacturer Eugène Farcot (1850-1896) who had his company on rue des Trois-Bornes in Paris.
Very well-known at the end of the 19th century, Farcot had exhibited monumental pendulum clocks at the 1878 and 1889 exhibitions. But the fact that he was the manufacturer of the mechanisms did not mean that he was also the designer and assembler of these baker’s clocks. However, Michael Schrader was soon able to discover that there were earthenware-mounted cartels bearing the Farcot trademark.
In addition, these cartels had the same recognizable dial as the baker’s clock seen above. So it was indeed a clock assembled and sold by Farcot.
Better still, this advertisement by Wandenberg, Farcot’s son-in-law and successor, mentions « mounted earthenware » and « chain cartels ».
The illustration in the advertisement also shows a mantelpiece clock which is a mounted earthenware equivalent to this clock.
Each time, the upper bronze is identical and can be found on several models of these baker’s clocks.
We will probably never know who was the foundryman who supplied Farcot with bronzes, including « Guimard style » bronzes.
On the other hand, we were able to find the maker of the earthenware thanks to a fifth correspondent, Mr Philippe Michaud, who had dismantled his baker’s clock…
… and was able to take a photo of the inside of the earthenware showing the mark of ceramist.
It is the company Hippolyte Boulenger in Choisy-le-Roi, a large industrial and artistic ceramics company that supplied the bevelled tiles for the metro, among other things. The attribution to Keller & Guérin of the earthenware of the Macklowe Gallery copy is therefore unfounded.
The idea that the expression « baker’s clock » was derived from the name of the ceramist Boulenger immediately comes to mind. The assumption is seductive, but we do not believe it is accurate. In its advertisements, the Farcot company uses the term « chain cartels » and not « baker’s clock » and does not put forward the name of the ceramist who remains well hidden inside. On the contrary, it does not hesitate to put its own brand name on certain earthenware dials. It is therefore probably not at the origin of the expression « boulengère clock » which would have been transformed into « baker’s clock » (boulanger in French = baker). As for the public, it did not have the means to identify the name of the ceramist. Another hypothesis is that this type of clock was used in shops, preferably bakeries. If these clocks, delicate enough and better suited to their place in a living room, could indeed have been placed on the walls of certain shops, there is no reason why they should have been specific to bakeries.
The origin of these Farcot clocks having been established, there is no longer any reason to read fancy sales notes presenting them as « de Guimard », « d’après Guimard » or « dans le goût de Guimard ». They are simply Farcot Art Nouveau style clocks.
Translation: Alan Bryden
Many thanks to all our correspondents without whom it would not have been possible to make progress.
Well aware that we are only gradually changing the attribution habits, since the publication of this article we intervene from time to time with the auction houses which still attribute this type of clock to Guimard.
The attributions have been changed with good grace:
– orally at the sale of the Leclere company in Drouot on January 20, 2017 (lot 12)
– on the online catalogue of the sale of the Bournier & Ardennes Enchères company in Charleville-Mézières on 23 June 2018 (lot 108).
We did not intervene at the auction Debaecker & Richmond company in Saint-Martin-Boulogne in the Pas de Calais. At the sale on 12 October 2019, at no. 158, they offered a Farcot clock « in the style of Guimard » but — the lack of imagination being limitless — entitled it « Art Nouveau Clock Castel Béranger ».
 Baker’s clock is the literal translation of the French “horloge boulangère”. The origin of this denomination is not clear, as the article will later elaborate.