Clockmaker Jean-Baptiste Lepaute (1727−1802)
Terracotta sculpture by Claude Michel Clodion (1738−1814)
The Dance of Time, Three Nymphs Supporting a Clock
Terracotta, gilt brass, and glass
H.: 40 3/4 in in. (H.: 103.5 cm)
Purchased by The Frick Collection through the Bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey, 2006
Accession number: 2006.2.02
With trussed hair and flowing drapery, these young dancing nymphs recall the grace and beauty of classical art, yet Clodion also renders these figures with lush realism, balancing each on one foot. As the nymphs turn around a fluted column, their garments swirl around them. The French sculptor Clodion, one of the most inventive and technically gifted sculptors of the eighteenth century, trained in Rome, where he studied classical statuary. While there he also discovered an affinity for working in clay, a wonderfully malleable medium. He carefully choreographs his dancers' every twist and turn, each gesture balanced with a countermove. These graceful maidens raise their arms as if it is they who carry the glass globe above and turn the dial of the clock within.
This clock was designed by renowned Parisian clockmaker Jean-Baptiste Lepaute. The transparent sphere allows one to see each of the sparkling clock’s mechanisms — the pendulum, rotating dial, and small bell. Every hour, when the bell trills its gentle notes, those joyous nymphs seem to twirl about one more time. When the clock chimes, its delicate sounds give voice to the nymphs’ dance, revealing the harmonious collaboration of clockmaker and sculptor.