Pair of rectangular paintings in Compigné consisting of five medallions representing the harbor of Marseille


France, second half of the 18th century
Attributed to Thomas Compigné
After a painting byJoseph Vernet, A view of the Saint-Jean fountain at Marseille
Pewter, gold and gouache


First painting with the inscription “Première vue de Marseille. Executed sur le tour by Compigné, tourneur du Roi in Paris, after Mr. Vernet’s painting, painter of his Majesty “. Second painting bearing the inscription “Second view of Marseille. Fountain of St-Jean. Executed sur le tour by Compigné, tourneur du Roi in Paris, after Mr. Vernet’s painting, painter of his Majesty”.

Close examples:
–  Pierre-François Laurent, Vue de la Fontaine Saint-Jean à Marseille, engraving after Joseph Vernet’s painting Une vue de la fontaine Saint-Jean à Marseille, circa 1750- 1800, New York, Metropolitan Museum,
(inv. 53.600.1501
–  Thomas Compigné, Compigné medallion representing a view of the fountain Saint-Jean in Marseille, second half of the 18th century, after Joseph Vernet’s painting, Une vue de la Fontaine Saint-Jean, à Marseille, Paris, Galerie Léage

Both of these paintings in Compigné with a view of the harbor of Marseille have an identical structure. They are composed of a central medallion with the main illustration on either side of which are two elliptical medallions containing a floral motif. At each corner, the spandrels contain watery landscapes in which scenes of daily life are represented. A few characters animate these landscapes, punctuated by waterfront dwellings, and surrounded by vegetation. The omnipresence of water in the spandrels echoes the main view in the central medallion.
In the first painting of the pair, the central medallion presents a maritime scene with a view of the harbor of Marseille, recognizable by the tower in the background, separated from foreground by the sea, on which a sailboat and a boat are sailing. The foreground shows the coastline with a woman holding her child and a fishing rod. To her right, a man is getting into a small boat while a fisherman already on board.
The central medallion of the second painting of the pair represents a view of the inside of the harbor. People are seen filling barrels with water at the Fontaine Saint-Jean and loading them onto a boat. On the left of this scene, the mast of a boat balances the composition. Further to the right, the Fort Saint-Jean overlooks the entrance to the harbor. In the distance, a sailboat waiting for supplies interrupts the horizon line and adds verticality to the scene.
The pink hues of the sky in the central medallions as well as in the spandrels of the pair of paintings evoke the beginning of the day, and the awakening of the harbor, which is the heart Marseille’s economy.

Paintings in Compigné
Of great preciosity 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 colored 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 colors.

Thomas Compigné
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 specialized 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.

Joseph Vernet (1714-1789), marine painter
Trained in the southwest of France, Claude Joseph Vernet became from an early age a promising young artist in the local milieu. The Marquis de Caumont intervened on his behalf regarding a trip to Rome, which he undertook in 1734: instead of studying the great masters of the Renaissance and Antiquity, he favored the study of landscape and marine painters such as Claude Gellée, known as the Lorrain. His painting found its resonance in these genres, which eventually made him very popular in the eyes of French, then Italian and English patrons. This success first started when he entered his Roman period. His name was soon renown throughout Europe, largely thanks to multiple travels, and specifically those undertook by aristocrats accomplishing their Grand Tour. In 1745, Joseph Vernet was accepted by the Académie Royale de peinture et de sculpture. In 1753, he returned to France: he first stayed in Marseille, where he painted several views of the harbor from different angles, and then settled in Paris. At this time, he received one of the most important commissions of his career thanks to the intervention of the Marquis de Marigny, Directeur General des batiments du Roi, to Louis XV: 27 paintings representing “the most beautiful harbors of the kingdom”. He produced only 15 paintings, now in the Musée National de la Marine and the Louvre, but the series Vue des ports de France ensured his posterity.

Plaisir de France, « Les Compignés et leurs créateurs, ces délicats chefs-d’œuvre de la tabletterie au XVIIIe siècle », n° 427, March 1975.
Compigné, peintre et tabletier du Roy, catalogue d’exposition, Grasse, Villa-Musée Jean- Honoré Fragonard, June-July 1991.

Additional information

Dimensions 14,5 × 10,5 cm