We all know time plays a major role in our lives, however, the Horological Society of New York – America’s premier watchmaking guild – now also recognizes the role of watches and clocks in vintage and modern art. In fact, to celebrate this association between time and art, the Society opened its headquarters on “Club Row” in Manhattan so that visitors could attend – for free – the latest Horology in Art exhibition.
The exhibition, which opened in November 2021 and will run until April 2022, features more than 60 paintings and works of art both as the main subject and as auxiliary and secondary subjects. Almost all of the works on display are on loan from HSNY exhibition curator Bob Frishman. Frishman, also a speaker and writer on clocks and watches, began collecting works of art almost 20 years ago. His collection spans centuries and he writes regularly for the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC) on artists and the cultural background of images. He has orchestrated similar exhibitions on the subject in various locations in America.
According to Frishman, he searches for clocks (or watches) in works of art whenever he’s in museums, at art exhibitions, or browsing auction catalogs. He currently has over 2,000 images in his digital collection.
“I learned that watches in art were recognized symbols of wealth, discipline, technological sophistication, occupation and mortality,” says Frishman in his “curator’s introductory” letter at the beginning of the catalog. Horology in Art for the HSNY exhibition. They were a blunt reminder, especially to an illiterate audience, that earthly pleasures and treasures are fleeting. In more modern images, they are still part of the narrative and composition of every work of art, never there simply by accident.
It should be noted that the works on display are a collection of actual art – original paintings, period photographs, or prints – that Frishman either acquired or borrowed for the exhibition. A 16-page catalog features the works, including the cover image by an unknown artist. Circa 1780-1785, the image is of Catherine Gates Willard, the first wife of Boston clockmaker Aaron Willard. This is an oil on canvas loaned by Robert Cheney and the Willard House & Clock Museum.
Other highlights of the original art include a 19e watercolor painted on the reverse of the century on glass by an unknown artist in which a woman holds a small table clock, showing it happily. The other originals are predominantly 19e paintings of the century by lesser-known artists. The fine and vintage prints include the “Persistence of Memory” print by Salvador Dali. This is a print of a 1931 oil on canvas by the artist and may well be the most well-known work of art that includes time and watches. The original is in the Museum of Modern Art.
The exhibition also includes covers of period magazines, including one from 1919 Saturday night message blanket, and a blanket of The New Yorker in 1981. A multitude of historical photos of Matthew Brady, including one of Clara Barton and Thomas Boston Corbett are also on display. In short, there is a little something for everyone who loves clocks, watches, time and art.
The New York Horology in Art exhibit is held in the recently reopened offices of the Society, which also has an incredible collection of books on the subject of watches and clocks and has several historic watchmaking tools on site. Tours are free and timed tickets are required, along with proof of vaccination and masks.