Lot No. 115 (95th Auction)
Charles Bontems, Paris, Height 560 mm, circa 1890

An extremely rare singing bird automaton with three twittering birds - one of the finest and rarest singing bird automatons created by Bontems, in outstanding original condition
Case: ormolu/porcelain. Automaton mechanism: octagonal, full-plate, bellows, going barrel.

The octagonal round top bird cage is made of gilt bronze; it is decorated with eight ornamental columns connected by flower garlands that have pairs of birds resting on them. The cage sits on a bronze base decorated with eight elaborately framed and hand-painted porcelain panels; each of them shows an 18th century galant scene and is signed by Renè. The base holds a complicated automaton movement that is activated with a winding key and a lever in the base plate. Inside the cage a bird with bright yellow and black feathers sits on a bronze perch; on the floor are two more birds, one brown and one kingfisher-blue. Once the movement is wound and the lever is released, the birds open their beaks and start twittering, while flapping their wings and tails.

This type of gilt bronze singing bird cage was popular in the 19th century, however, only a small number was ever commissioned and produced. Most of these are decorated with stained glass or exquisitely painted porcelain panels.

Blaise Bontems (1814-1893) founded his famous manufactory for automaton singing birds in 1849 in Paris. His son Charles Bontems succeeded him and was in turn succeeded by his own son Lucien – the era ended when Lucien Bontems died in 1956.
In 1862 the company had many international customers and 90% of their products would be sold outside France. Bontems won 52 medals and many patents – among the medals was one awarded by Napoleon III and one presented by Leopold II of Belgium.
The story goes that Bontems, who was keen to imitate birdsong as closely as possible, went to walk in the forest to listen to the birds. He took one of the instruments with pipe and a piston with him and then adjusted the piston to produce the desired notes. Upon returning to his workshop he modified the whole mechanism in such a way that it enabled him to create the most realistic and authentic sounds.
Source:, as of 04/02/2016
Estimate  32,000 - 45,000 €

Price Realised  31,000 €
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