European clocks at the Frick Collection – The Art of the Timekeeper. Masterpieces from the Winthrop Edey Bequest, exhibition – Brief Article
Allison Eckardt Ledes
The scholar-collector is a rare bird, but when well-honed connoisseurship skills, a thorough understanding of the history of design, and great financial resources are combined in a single individual, a remarkable collection can be assembled. Such is the case with the horological expert and collector Winthrop Kellogg Edey, who made his first notation in his “Clock Book” at the age of twelve. By that time he owned seventeen clocks and four watches. At his death in 1999 Edey bequeathed his collection of twenty-five clocks, fourteen watches, and an extensive horological library to the Frick Collection in New York City. From this the museum has selected thirteen clocks and eight watches for an exhibition entitled The Art of the Timekeeper. Masterpieces from the Winthrop Edey Bequest, which is on view through February 24,2002. The guest curator for the show is William J. H. Andrewes, formerly a curator at Harvard University.
Edey’s family made a fortune building oil refineries, yet he lived a frugal life in NewYork City in a nineteenth-century town house that he kept in original condition. His substantial resources were devoted to the purchase of important clocks as they became available. An astute collector, he frequently traded up for pieces that were more important. Edey was drawn to examples that illustrated technological and aesthetic developments in the history of timekeeping, so his collection includes pieces made between about 1500 and 1830. Heisthe authorof two books: French Clocks, published in 1967, and French Clocks in North American Collections: The Frick Collection, which was published in 1982 on the occasion of an exhibition held at the Frick Collection. As both of these volumes attest, French clocks, particularly those made between 1660 and 1800, were Edey’s main interest.
Beginning in the last decades of the thirteenth century with the invention of the weight-driven mechanical clock, the clockmaker’s quest was to improve timekeeping accuracy. Technological developments often necessitated new designs for clock cases, which became vehicles for sumptuous decoration and the use of rare materials. The earliest known reference to a portable clock, one driven by a mainspring, dates to 1377. Very few examples made before the middle of the sixteenth century are known, so it is the more remarkable that Edey owned two. In 1656 the pendulum clock was invented in the Netherlands, and designs for clock cases changed radically to house this critical new component.
A fully illustrated booklet with the same title as the exhibition is available from the museum shop at the Frick by telephoning 212-288-0700.
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