The Charles X gold, enamel and split-seed pearl oiseau chantant and musical portrait box.
Lot 30Y
The Charles X gold, enamel and split-seed pearl oiseau chantant and musical portrait box, made most probably as a direct commission circa 1799-1802,
Sold for £181,250 (US$ 304,648) inc. premium
Lot Details
The Charles X gold, enamel and split-seed pearl oiseau chantant and musical portrait box,
made most probably as a direct commission circa 1799-1802,
-
The case by George Reymond & Cie,
The singing bird and musical movements by Jacob Frisard (1753-1812),
The portrait miniature attributed to Daniel Saint (1778-1847),
-
No. 4,
with fusee movement driving spirally-milled cam stack providing continuous birdsong, shaped engraved plates with bevelled loafers and blued screws throughout, Frisard's inscription to spring plate as Frisard to chain wheel take-up drum and Jacob Frisard to chain wheel top plate, the repairer's inscription as Edmond Droz, mail 50, Neuchatel, Suisse, VII 1962, with stop lever in polished steel, the separate barillet musical movement for manually actuated single air, playing The Shepherd and the Clouds, with eight-tooth stack of polished steel, finely pinned cylinder to plain brass bedplate, fitted within the bird movement housing to chain arbour, the bird with close detail banded and layered feathered plumage in hues of electric blue, deep black, lime green, turquoise and white-tip highlights, the iridescent highlights in subtle orange and dark green to wings and front, when actuated, moving body, head, ivory beak, wings and tailfeather to continuous birdsong, rising through finely chased solid gilt grille with bird profile and radial decorated border fret, blued screws, the lid interior of highly polished gold, lid-lock feature with hoop catch to front-right, the case of very early proportions in wide aspect, the bird lid with exceptionally detailed painted shoulder-length enamel study of Charles X, in interior with green pleated silk hanging drapes, he is seated in full uniform and wearing the Order of the Three Golden Fleece, the Order of the Holy Ghost and the Royal and Military Order of Saint Louis, complete with lapel ribbons and shoulder tassel caps, framed with a single rondo of 37 split-seed pearls each with petit-baulle claws, the main top with deep cobalt blue enamel, engine turned and tooled diamond matrix with stylised clover-leaf centres and black line detail, the whole finished with an undertone ground of multi-wave lines, repeated to all sides and underside, edge frame with further leaf frieze wrapped with intermittant ribbon twists and fleur-de-lys corners, front edge with frieze of arcs and scrolls in black, white and clipper blue enamels repeated to underside framework, sides with fine white and blue enamels highlighting duet baulle and wand friezes, the rear panel with dual friezes of drape pairs in repeating clipper blue enamel, the corners with floral urns on black enamel ground, main lid opening to reveal bird lid mounting and movement cover in cat's-eye engraved ground, flanked by compartment top panels of closely-detailed work of diamond and cross tooling, male winding stem for bird movement and full hallmarks for maker and export, the compartments at opposing ends, with the left-hand side for the key, the right-hand side for access to musical movement winding stem and speed regulator control marked L and V, with both doors bearing the full maker's marks, start/stop button to front-right, with a non-period key -

Footnotes

  • Reference:
    For very similar portrait of Charles X, see 'Oval and Enamel Portrait Snuffbox', catalogue No.: [Loan:Gilbert 460-2008], from The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection, Victoria and Albert Museum, London,

    Very similar in manufacturing layout as item 81, 'Singing bird box, by Reymond, Lamy, Mercier & Compy., Antique Automatons, For The Benefit of the Pestalozzi Foundation of America, 3rd November-5th December 1950, 785 Fifth Avenue, New York - from the Collection of A. La Vieille Russie, Inc.

    Portrait miniature gold snuffbox by Otto Samuel Keibel, study by Daniel Saint, item No.657, Metropolitan Museum, New York - see Eighteenth Century Gold Boxes of Europe, by A. Kenneth Snowman, Faber and Faber, 1966, p.116.

    Literature:
    Mechanical Singing-Bird Tabatiéres, Geoffrey T. Mayson, Robert Hale, 2000, pp. 15-17 and 78.
    For similar bird, grille and lid opening bar layout with lid-lock detail, see fig. 3.5 on p.25 for the Rochat example made when Frisard was still part of that firm.
    For an almost identical movement, bar full grille, see illustration on page opposite frontis of a Jaquet-Droz & Leschot of London example, with the movement signed Jacob Frisard of Berne, dated 1794.

    Footnote:

    In early years;
    For many, Draquet-Droz still rules on top of the world for the best singing bird boxes ever made, with their gravitas of technical understanding and natural seemless quality throughout never beaten by others. Some claim their workmanship will never be beaten.
    A great deal of talent frequented the workshops of this respected company, with the craftsmen setting to work manufacturing certain components to ensure each part reached its top potential.

    Amongst the names, Frisard's core talent lay in the cutting, preparing and milling of cams and cam-stacks to a degree no one had seen before.
    His genius input to the company between 1795 and circa 1800, happened also to be the golden period of the highest level of singing bird movement production seen anywhere, as noted by mostly commission-onlu pieces and those bound only for royal collections.

    It has been recorded that he spent some days sitting in forests around his home armed with a quill and writing paper, trying his best in his own style of shorthand, to capture actual bird song sequences. The timing and pitch being directed by the pre-lining of the page - much the same as the five stave bars on musical scores musicians and conductors work to - in order to create a primitive but nevertheless pitch-correct 'recording' of birdsong.
    Once back in the workshop, this was then notated through the circumference of a cam, and onward through the spring-drive mechanism to ensure a complete phase was played back.

    Such was his passion for this recording method, it was clear to him that a single row of cams even on a stack would prone to problems such as the slight pause between the end of the first cam and the start for the second cam and so-forth.
    Once he started up business on his own in 1799, just before this box was made, he perfected a superb design of having a spirally-milled cam which would play back the full length notation, whilst avoiding the mini-pause.

    Charles X led a colourful life during and just after the French revolution, coming to stay in exile in London in South Audley Street. He ran up vast debts, commissioned a large array of personal luxuries and lavished his home in such finery, the Prince Regent's traits in the years to come were regularly compared with his behaviour.
    Some of these commissions are to be found in the Royal collections of both England and France, however as most were split up and sold off following his death in 1836 to cover outstanding debts, a full record of these effects is not thought to exist.

    When Napoleon was directing the Egyptian expedition, one of his chief resistances were the old Bourbon rulers, still loyal to the pre-revolutionary agenda. Following the Conspiration des Poiguards in 1804, Charles's safety in England whilst supporting such actions, left him obliged to honour some political persuasions to titled gentlemen at home and abroad. Amongst what must have been a long list was Louis Antonie, the Duke of Enghien (later executed by Napoleon), Manuel de Godoy and King Charles IV of Spain.
    What better way to sweeten agreements and arrange matters in advance of actions remotely, than to commission something rather special. One of many gifts/payment offerings from Charles X to his now very loyal and supportive circle.

    In later years;
    In July 1962, this box had a repair or service and could not have been in better hands. The work was carried out by Edmond Droz of Switzerland, and apart from his masterpiece workshop skills is probably best known as the co-author of Automata, A Historical and Technological Study, along with Alfred Chapuis, which was first printed in 1958.

    Here is a singing bird musical snuffbox of the finest quality, made by the finest maker and capturing an important moment in the maker's life when his best efforts were achieved in his twilight years.
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