France, second half of the 18th century
Pewter and gold leaf
Gouache, coloured varnishes
This small rectangular painting in stamped pewter leaf, gilt with gold leaf and enhanced with gouache and coloured varnishes, depicts a maritime landscape animated with figures in a triple decorative frame with gold, red and gold borders. The peculiarities of pewter and gold are highlighted by a delicate engraving work that brings relief to the composition. The attention to detail is reflected in the refinement of the polychromy. The scene on the left depicts three fishermen in a boat hauling up a net near the shore. In the centre, a sailor stands in a small sailing boat alongside two other barks, one of which is guided by another sailor. To the right, the coastline is bordered by a big building, dominated by tress, with a large tower and small houses preceded by a staircase leading to the watercourse. In front of the building, a small boat led by two sailors is about to dock while another character seems to be waiting for them on the bank. In the background on the left, the bay continues with a small village in the centre of which dominates the bell tower of a church.
Paintings in Compigné
Of great preciousity and variety of materials, the paintings in Compigné were made according to a mysterious process starting from a sheet of tortoiseshell or cardboard to which a pewter or gold leaf was applied. The surface could then be decorated with gold, silver, gouache and coloured varnishes. These “miniatures”, known today under the name of Compigné, had a great success in the 1760s.The small format, characteristic of this production, required to work in extreme precision, probably with the help of a magnifying glass, to develop the perfection of these technical details and colours.
Arrived from Italy, probably around 1750, Thomas Compigni took the name Compigné when he settled under the sign of Roi David, rue Greneta, in Paris. As an ivory turner, he specialised in the manufacture and sale of boxes, knitting sets, draughts and chess sets, snuffboxes and other cane handles of blond tortoiseshell inlaid with gold. Renowned for the quality of his objects, he passed on to posterity through the production of precious paintings whose technique remains mysterious today. In 1773, he presented two views of the Château de Saint-Hubert to the King and obtained the title of “tabletier privilégié du Roi” under Louis XV and Louis XVI. His themes of predilection are most often views of towns, monuments and castles from the perspective of parks or landscapes animated by small characters.
Plaisir de France, « Les Compignés et leurs créateurs, ces délicats chefs-d’œuvre de la tabletterie au XVIIIe siècle », n° 427, mars 1975.
Compigné, peintre et tabletier du Roy, exhibition catalogue, Grasse, Villa-Musée Jean-Honoré Fragonard (Juin-Juillet 1991).