Violin by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, Paris, circa 1860
About Jean-Baptiste VuillaumeAs with so many great men and women, Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume demonstrated genius in many areas of life. The first talent to bloom in the young J.B. Vuillaume was an exceptional facility in making stringed instruments. Some of the early part of his career was spent working for François Chanot, making cornerless violins. Whilst these curiosities aren't necessarily all that successful in their tone (and one can acquire such an instrument for a great deal less than his later violins), they are exquisitely made and fascinating to see. The more conventional violins he made at the start of his career are, however, much more standard in model and are far more typical of what one normally expects to see from an instrument by Vuillaume.
Whilst Vuillaume's skill as a luthier was almost peerless in France at the time, perhaps an even greater talent than that of his woodworking ability, was his 'people working' ability. He quickly set up a dealership and workshop in Paris and over the length of his career employed the very best violin makers and the most exceptional bow makers that France had to offer. All of these instrument makers were making instruments to Vuillaume´s choice of models and ideas, and the instruments made in this workshop are considered greater than the sum of their parts: that is to say that none of the makers, fine as they were, managed to achieve such success making outside this workshop. To have recruited and then extracted such consistent work from such a diverse group of violin makers at the top of their game is remarkable! I take this as proof of Vuillaume, the virtuoso manager.
The final skill was that of business acumen and marketing. This talent sometimes took Vuillaume away from honest trading, into the grey area and beyond! At the scrupulous end of things, he was an innovator, with new designs for the bow being tried and tested in his workshops, though even parts of this are somewhat disputed as Vuillaume may have stolen some of the ideas. In the middle of the grey area is the maker Vuillaume invented, and then 'copied', the fictitious Gasparo Duiffopruggar. Finally, we move into downright dishonest and illegal behaviour. In this category we have the claims that his great, great grandfather worked with Stradivari, and the infamous time that he attempted to steal Paganini's violin.
Business practices aside, what we can say of Vuillaume with certainty is that he was incredibly important in the world of violin making and dealing. In the 19th century, he was indisputably the most important violin dealer in the world, handling many of the great instruments, such as Stradivari's 'le Messie' amongst others. His violins, both the ones he made personally and the ones which were made under his watchful eye, are considered to be amongst the greatest ever produced in France, perhaps surpassed in quality only by the instruments of Nicolas Lupot.
About the violinThe violin was made around 1860 and is a relatively unusual one in terms of model, being modelled after Amati. Vuillaume´s most numerous copies are of the instruments of Stradivari. One often sees `del Gesù´ copies and Maggini as well, but Amati copies are slightly rarer. This is an adapted Amati model: the f holes, outline and scroll are all as expected, however, it has a much more Stradivari-like approach to arching. I particularly like the gorgeous quilted maple of the one piece back: this is an instrument that looks every bit as impressive as it sounds!
As mentioned above, the one piece back is of quilted maple, a choice that pays homage to the instruments of Amati. The two piece spruce front is of medium-grain which widens towards the flanks. The violin has a rich, red varnish which is laid over a golden ground. The length of back is 355mm.
How does it sound?The Stradivari-influenced arching and the slightly longer length of back make the violin every bit as powerful as Vuillaume´s Stradivari copies. The Amati influence, however, gives this violin a slightly sweeter and warmer tone than I associate with those instruments. This combination of power and sweetness is very compelling: the violin has a great deal more colour than is often found in otherwise excellent examples of the French school.
ConditionOriginal in all parts, the violin is in very good condition.
CertificationThe violin comes with a Peter Biddulph certificate. It is signed internally by Vuillaume and it bears the number 2331.
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