This particularly decorative clock illustrates the late 19th-century vogue for Japanese art.
Gustave Isaac Lévy (founder active from 1855 to 1881), model possibly designed by Émile-Auguste Reiber (1826-1893), Jollet & Cie founders. La Tortue et le crabe (The Turtle and the Crab), gilded bronze clock, cloisonné enamel, stylized clouds and geometrical patterns, c. 1880, 58 x 31 cm/22.83 x 12.20 in.
La Fontaine’s fables about the crow and the fox, the grasshopper and the ant and the wolf and the dog are famous: here is the La Tortue et la crabe (The Turtle and The Crab). The encounter might seem preposterous, but there is a grain of truth to it in nature: crabs often pick away at certain organisms on the turtle’s shell.
This lovely object was probably made by Alsatian Émile-Auguste Reiber (1826-1893). Trained by architect Guillaume Blouet in Paris, Reiber was swept away by the Japanese products that were starting to reach the West, which was inaccessible—or almost—to European eyes. He transformed his monogram into a calligraphic Japanese ideogram and shared his interest in Japan through tableware and silverware for Christofle, where he was the head of the workshop. In the 1870s, Reiber published books of Japanese and Chinese-style patterns. The Prints and Drawings Collection in the Museums of the City of Strasbourg has one with nearly 250 of his studies, some based on works in the Louvre, intended for stained glass, faience and home decorations. In this clock, shapes, motifs and techniques, including subtle polychrome effects achieved with enamels or colored patinas, all come together to poetically and elegantly conjure up a fascinating vision of Asia.