EXPO CHICAGO/2014 Highlight: Charles Cressent Boulle Clock

Charles Cressent (1685-1768) was a descendant of a family of furniture makers and talented sculptors. As a pupil of André Charles Boulle (1642–1732)—the French cabinetmaker who is generally considered to be the preeminent artist in the field of marquetry—Cressent's work is characteristic of the Rococo period with adornments of feminine figures and motifs, floral Arabesques, and exotic animals. To combine the gilt-bronze elements of his unique style and to ensure the quality of his mounts, Cressent broke the rules of the French guild system and was prosecuted for practicing two professions in the same workshop—cabinetmaking and gilding.

Cameel Halim, avid collector and proprietor of the Halim Time and Glass Museum in Evanston, Illinois, came across this clock by Cressent and recognized it for what it was. Boulle is a unique combination of inlaid brass and tortoiseshell. When the clock was brought to The Center it was covered in a heavy layer of particulate film and accretions. It exhibited shrinkage splits, delamination, and lifting tortoiseshell and brass throughout as well as areas of loss throughout. The polished surface was deteriorated and the oil finish on the brass had oxidized, resulting in darkened brass and tortoiseshell.

Our furniture conservators Stephen Ryan and Michael Young approached the clock case with a full understanding of the severity of the damage and the time and care required to bring it back to life. (The clock movement and case mounts were restored by the Halim Time and Glass Museum staff).

Stephen and Michael cleaned the entire surface, seated the loose and lifting brass and tortoiseshell, and replaced the missing pieces of inlay. This involved hand-cutting minuscule segments of brass and tortoiseshell alternative (the use of tortoiseshell was banned in 1977) and adhering each minute piece by hand. The previous finish and corrosion on the metal were removed. Finally, they refinished and hand-polished the surface of the casing.

This entire process took over 100 hours, but Stephen and Michael were able to unearth the true beauty and innovation of Cressent’ s craftsmanship and restore the clock to its original majesty.