France, second half of the 18th century
Gouache, coloured varnishes
This small painting, in pewter leaf embossed and enhanced with silver, gouache and coloured varnishes, represents a castle. The castle depicted in this painting is made of brick and stone, on a stone base. It is characteristic of the architecture developed since the 17th century.
The perfectly symmetrical plan is centred on a pavilion, opening through large windows with ornate balconies, framed by four-bay, two-storey pavilions with a high slate roof adorned with dormer windows. It ends with two symmetrical three-bay return pavilions of equal height with slate roofs punctuated by chimneys. Finally, the courtyard is embodied by two water basins leaving a passage in the axis of the central pavilion extended in the foreground by a wide alley. Completing the symmetry of the ensemble, this alley divides the foreground of the composition where a greenery flowerbed is animated with numerous characters. Around a carriage and a coach, men and women run to welcome the newcomers, while several men with canes walk towards the door of the central pavilion of the castle. On either side, two rows of trees frame this open space symmetrically. Coloured in gouache, elements of the castle and incised foliage, enhanced with silver leaf, precise and animate the drawing. The sky unfolds in an off-white, then bluish and cloudy background. A posterior annotation on the reverse specifies that it is the château de Maisons-Laffitte, but all the elements of its architecture do not correspond.
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 carboard 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.