Automates & Merveilles
The «Automates & Merveilles» association presents plans for an exhibition: «One Exhibition, 3 Cities, 3 Museums»
The idea of an exhibition germinated from the presence of the historic automata constructed by Pierre and Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz in the collections of the Musée d’art et d’histoire de Neuchâtel and the latter’s desire to gain more scientific knowledge about these creative geniuses and the world of clockwork automata.
The Musée d’art et d’histoire de Neuchâtel, the Musée international d’horlogerie de La Chaux-de-Fonds and the Musée d’horlogerie du Locle – Château des Monts came together to present an exhibition on three outstanding masters of 18th-century clockmaking: Pierre Jaquet-Droz, his son Henri-Louis and their colleague Jean-Frédéric Leschot.
Originally from the Neuchâtel Mountains, the Jaquet-Droz father and son team made a reputation for themselves as brilliant inventors and astute businessmen. They were famous in Europe and world-wide for producing luxury goods characterized by the purity and elegance of their design. Among these remarkable objects were pieces of jewelry with miniaturized mechanisms, musical clockwork automata, such as singing birds, and clocks with automata, including humanoid automata.
To highlight the Jaquet-Droz and Leschot genius, as well as their quest for answers – something that connects them to today’s world – the three museums decided to share their expertise and collections in order to mount an exhibition enriched by many exceptional pieces on loan from private and public collections. Presented simultaneously at all three institutions and in three languages (French, German and English), this international artistic and technical event will take the visitor from the 18th to the 21st century.
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The Automates & Merveilles exhibition will be divided into three sections. Each museum will explore one aspect of the life and times of the Jaquet-Droz family that is covered by its own collections. It will use one of the three humanoid automata preserved at the Musée d’art et d’histoire de Neuchâtel to introduce this aspect. Two of the automata will relocate from their home museum to partner museums for the occasion.
Neuchâtel, Musée d’art et d’histoire
Automates & Merveilles: The Jaquet-Droz family and Leschot
Who were the Jaquet-Droz and Leschot? How did they come to start their business? How did they conquer the world, expanding from La Chaux-de-Fonds to Geneva, London and Paris? What role did automata play in their collection of pieces intended for the luxury market? More generally, how were automata used in the 18th century as tools for scientific and philosophic research? What do these automata have in common with the robots of today and tomorrow? These are some of the questions that the Musée d’art et d’histoire de Neuchâtel (MAHN) will be addressing in its section of the exhibition.
The Jaquet-Droz automaton to be shown in Neuchâtel: The Writer by Pierre Jaquet-Droz
La Chaux-de-Fonds, Musée international d’horlogerie
Automates & Merveilles: Marvellous movements... amazing mechanisms
One thematic highlight is automated musical production. Musical boxes, musical automata, street organs, mechanical musical instruments and all kinds of chimes and glockenspiels will amaze visitors. Designed to evoke surprise and astonishment, the exhibition will lead the visitor past mystery clocks, perpetual motion mechanisms and «celestial» automata such as planetariums and clocks indicating complex astronomical information. Indeed, the main objective of the temporary exhibition at the Musée international d’horlogerie (MIH) will be to amaze, astonish and surprise visitors.
The Jaquet-Droz automaton in La Chaux-de-Fonds: The Musician by Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz
Le Locle, Musée d’horlogerie – Château des Monts
Automates & Merveilles: Masterpieces of luxury and miniaturization
Starting in the second half of the 18th century, the miniaturization of mechanical and musical movements gave rise to a new industry. Pierre Jaquet-Droz and his son Henri-Louis occupied a prominent position in this field. The exhibition will present the master clockmakers that worked with the Jaquet-Droz and the heirs to this tradition by tracing their relationships. By miniaturizing mechanisms, these craftsmen were able to incorporate singing birds, musical boxes or animated scenes into all kinds of objects (e.g. watches, pistols, cages and snuff boxes). They also excelled in the creation of humanoid automata and small mechanical animals. Miniaturization and precious decoration are the key topics developed by the Musée d’horlogerie du Locle (MHL).
The Jaquet-Droz automaton in Le Locle: The Draughtsman by Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz
Montres Jaquet Droz SA
Since Montres Jaquet Droz SA became a subsidiary of Swatch Group in 2000, it has unceasingly perpetuated the history and know-how of the founder, Pierre Jaquet Droz. A product of the Enlightenment, his elegant and travel-oriented philosophy still forms the core of the company’s brand identity. The planned exhibition celebrating the work of Pierre Jaquet-Droz, his son Henri-Louis and their colleague Jean-Frédéric Leschot confirms that a close tie still binds the Enlightenment to the third millennium. Hence why Montres Jaquet Droz SA decided to support this remarkable project of the association «Automates & Merveilles».
Courtesy of Montres Jaquet Droz SA, The Writer by Pierre Jaquet-Droz (1774) will become the Ambassador of Automates & Merveilles to China
In 1774, Pierre Jaquet-Droz (1721–1790), his son Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz (1752–1791) and their fellow clockmaker Jean-Frédéric Leschot (1746–1824) presented three humanoid automata known as The Writer, The Musician and The Draughtsman, still preserved at the Musée d’art et d’histoire de Neuchâtel, for the first time at their workshop in La Chaux-de-Fonds. Completed by La Grotte, a large mechanical composition that no longer exists, this presentation was a tremendous success. Visitors traveled great distances to admire it. Already renowned in Europe for the quality and complexity of their horological creations, which often featured flute works or small automata, the Jaquet-Droz father and son team took advantage of this success to get a firm foothold on the international market. The automata presented in 1774 were instrumental to this expansion, serving as a very effective vehicle for communication and marketing.
The Writer was the first Jaquet-Droz automaton. Its creator Pierre Jaquet-Droz began work on it in 1768, pursuing his research in the field of picturesque mechanisms and the artificial duplication of life and motion. It is certain that Jean-Frédéric Leschot helped build it. Soon after, Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz modified it. About 70 cm tall, the automaton took the form of a little boy sitting on a stool, writing with a goose-quill pen on a mahogany table. This mechanism was no doubt the most complex of the three humanoid automata. Programmable, the device was exceptional in that it could write any 40-character text on three lines. With his right hand, The Writer dipped his pen into an inkwell, with his eyes and head following the movement, then shook his pen and wrote his text, one letter at a time, on a piece of paper that shifted in position.
Pierre and Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz and China
Astute businessmen, Pierre and Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz traveled through Europe with their automata, holding demonstrations at many courts of Europe from 1774 on. They made their way to the court of Louis XVI in Paris, Brussels and the Netherlands.
In 1775, in London, one of the most important centers of clockmaking in the 18th century, Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz set up his «mechanical show» demonstrating the technical skills and creativity of clockmakers, which spectators could visit for the price of admission. He met clock merchants specialized in trade with China including the famous James Cox, who handled the sale of goods through the intermediary of his son in Canton, and the Duvals. Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz installed and managed a workshop whose output was intended mainly for China. In 1783, Henri-Louis left London and settled in Geneva for good with his partner and successor Jean-Frédéric Leschot. The London workshop was entrusted to Henri Maillardet.
It is difficult to ascertain the details concerning production, because few documents have survived and both manufactures also catered for the Asian market. With respect to the period 1781–1810, there is reason to think that two-thirds of the 650 items sold (mentioned in documents) were shipped to China. The exact number of pieces manufactured is impossible to determine. Catalogues enumerated the characteristics of the watches, snuff boxes, vials and temples, always sold in pairs. They described the material, the mechanism (sometimes) and the decoration (always), indicating whether a particular object featured enamelling, precious stones, singing birds or musical airs. Goods were shipped via a complicated network of intermediaries, subcontractors, shipping firms and insurers by routes that varied according to the period. For instance, the French Revolution inhibited commercial travel, especially between France and England. In Geneva, Jean-Frédéric Leschot played a key role from 1784 onward. He perfected, assembled, packed, shipped and ensured the delivery of pieces to London where they were handed over to the merchants that would ship them to Canton. After the death of both Jaquet-Drozs, Jean-Frédéric Leschot continued production until he finally closed the business early in the 19th century.
PDF Document in French
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