France, second half of the 18th century
Attributed to Thomas Compigné
Gold, pewter, silver, gouache, coloured varnishes
This small medallion, in gold, pewter leaf embossed and enhanced with silver, gouache and coloured varnishes, depicts a harvest scene. In the foreground on the left, a tree with undulating forms dominates the scene. At the foot of the tree, are four characters threshing the wheat while two others are occupied to the cut. In the background, on the right, ruins of a city end the composition. The sky unfolds in an off-white background and then turns blue and cloudy.
The representation of ruins
The uncovering of the ruins of Herculanum (1738) and Pompeii (1748) initiates the renewal of this pictural theme. Hubert Robert (1733-1808) was one of the painter who contributed to the recognition of ruin landscapes. Town views or isolated monuments, real ruins or drawn from his memories of Rome, all these representations participated in the diffusion of this motif, initially confined in the foreground in the 17th century. Thomas Compigné, his contemporaneous, thus realised similar landscapes, at the exception of characters in action, that he inserted delicately in scenes. Village feasts, fishermen, por like here harvesters thus animated the poetic landscapes of this painter.
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 cardboard or tortoiseshell 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 which 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.
Anita Semail, “Les Compignés et leurs créateurs, ces délicats chefs-d’œuvre de la tabletterie au XVIIIe siècle”, in Plaisir de France, n° 427, March 1975.
Collective work, Compigné, peintre et tabletier du Roy, exhibition catalogue, Grasse, Villa- Musée Jean-Honoré Fragonard, June-July 1991.
 His title means that Thomas Compigné was an officer of the house of the King. As an ivory turner, he carried out his duties all year round, producing furniture for the Crown.