France, second half of the 18th century
Pewter and silver
Gouache, coloured varnishes
This small medallion, in pewter leaf embossed and enhanced with silver, gouache and coloured varnishes, depicts a village scene. In the foreground on the left, a tree with undulating forms dominates the composition. At the foot of the tree, sits a shepherd tending his herd near a stream. On the right of the background, on the outskirts of a downhill town, villagers are gathered for a festive event that might be a MayPole ceremony: they dance in circle, around a tree decorated with a garland of flowers, to the rhythm of the instruments played by the musicians, one is perched on a bench, the other on a barrel. To the left of the circle of characters, others, including children, play with each other or join the popular dance. The sky unfolds in an off-white background and then turns blue and cloudy.
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 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).