JEAN BAPTISTE VUILLAUME
Recently sold – A fine French violin by the celebrated maker and dealer Jean Baptiste Vuillaume.
Coming from a family of luthiers, Jean Baptiste, had a distinguished career becoming the most important maker of the Vuillaume family. His instruments were famed for being flawless imitations of the great Italian masters, and this excellent show of craftsmanship was certainly helped by having wonderful originals on his workbench to take exact measurements and details from. His alter ego as a dealer took him all over Europe building an impressive collection of fine instruments by masters such as Stradivarius and Guarnerius, in fact his most successful business trip saw him successfully purchase a remarkable haul of over 100 Italian violins, 24 of which were by Antonio Stradivarius. This major purchase contributed to making his workshop undoubtedly the most successful of its time in Europe and securing his reputation as one of the most important and prolific makers in France, perhaps rivalled only by ‘the French Stradivarius’, Nicolas Lupot.
The instrument featured here is one of his rarer copies of a Paolo Maggini made in 1861 during the third of his three periods of output. It is in an excellent state of preservation, and still has its original neck safely intact. It features inlaid double purfling, making it instantly recognisable as a Maggini copy. The belly, rather unusually, is made from one piece of spruce. The highly figured back is also carved from a single piece of wood, and the whole instrument is varnished with a light golden brown colour, allowing Vuillaume’s chosen wood to shine through.
Born in Northern Italy in the small town of Bollengo, north of Turin, Gaida travelled briefly to France early in his career before spending five years working in London. In 1895 he returned to his birth place, and it was during this year that the violin pictured here was made. Gaida spent the next nine years in Italy before permanently moving to London in 1904. During his time in London, Gaida worked for Frederick William Chanot, and the influence of this fine anglo French maker is evident in Gaida’s work.
Gaida mainly modelled his violins after Stradivari and Guarneri, demonstrating a high level of craftsmanship, and produced notoriously elegant instruments. He also showed that he had a particular discernment for selecting attractive woods. In this example he favoured a two piece maple back of medium to broad figure, with similar wood for the scroll, and slightly narrower, well defined curl for the ribs. The belly is also of two pieces with a medium grain. This violin is varnished in a rich red brown over a golden ground, which is evident through Gaida’s perceptive use of shading. Most importantly, the instrument is capable of producing a sweet tone with good soloistic qualities.
Szepessy Bela was born in Budapest in 1856 and was an apprentice to one of the finest Hungarian maker’s Samuel Nemessanyi. After working in Bavaria, and Brussels, he settled in London in 1881 for the following forty years, before retiring to Tyrol in 1921. Szepessy’s time in the capital was his most productive period, where he produced finely crafted violins mainly modeled after Guarneri, though also focusing closely on Stradivari and Amati.
The violin pictured above was made in 1887, and is based on a robust Guarneri model with an attractive one piece back with matching ribs. Szepessy followed in the footsteps of his teacher by ensuring that his interior workmanship was of the highest order. His linings in particular are well executed, and included very neat chamfers. The varnish applied to this violin is shaded in appropriate areas, and unsurprisingly, is similar in texture to other late Victorian English luthiers.
Joseph Hel was born in 1842 and grew up near Mirecourt, in France. Though starting out in life as a Shepherd, his real interest was with the local violin makers and he managed to gain an apprenticeship with Salzard, which was to last seven years before moving on to work with Sebastien Vuillaume. By 1865 he was an established maker with his own workshop in Lille where he went on to produce over eight hundred instruments, mainly in the manner of Vuillaume, focusing on very good copies of Stradivari and Guarneri. He had a life long passion for violin making and spent a lot of time traveling to discover new information and experiment with various techniques. His enthusiasm was absorbed by his son, Pierre who, under the guidance of his father went on to produce a large number of instruments himself. The artistry, quality and sheer commitment to the work by Joseph Hel has earned him a place as one of the foremost French makers.
This violin, by and labeled Joseph Hel was made in 1887 and is stamped above the end pin. Modeled after Guarneri del Gesu, this instrument is a good and characteristic example of his work. The back, made from two pieces of attractively figured maple, has broad flames that run in a diagonal direction from the centre joint. Hel’s choice of wood is similar for the ribs, though the head has a narrower grain. The table is also of two pieces and has medium to open grain. The varnish which consists of a red brown colour over a golden yellow ground is quintessentially French, and is one of the main features that make the instrument unmistakably by Joesph Hel.
Over three hundred years ago Edward Pamphilon crafted this fine violin in 1668, in his workshop in London Bridge. A mere twenty miles away from its source of origin, we have been carefully carrying out some minor repairs in our own workshop, to prepare it for sale and find it a new home.
Pamphilon is an interesting maker from a long line of craftsman including five violin makers. It is however, suggested that he may have learnt his trade from Thomas Urquhart, a respected maker of that period. His style is very similar to that of Brescian makers and this likeness has been the cause of them being sold as Italian instruments in the past.
This lovely example of a Pamphilon has been converted from a Baroque instrument to suit a present day musician by way of a finely and sensitively crafted neck graft, carried out by craftsmen in the workshop of W.E. Hill and Sons. It is also not uncommon now for players in period orchestras and ensembles to convert such instruments back to their original form for an authentic playing experience.
An interesting and distinctive feature, typical of violins by this maker, is of a small triangular incision at the chin of the scroll. The sound holes are characteristically fine and drawn out, with a sweeping curve to the bottom. A golden varnish has been generously applied to the instrument, giving a lustrous and warm appearance to the slightly squarish outline.
Victor Thomassin was born in Mirecourt, France in 1859, the cousin of bow makers Louis and Claude. The first thirty years of his life were spent in France, before moving to London with his wife and children. They settled in Soho, an area full of violin makers or manufacturers such as Thibouville-Lamy, and he was probably employed by such a business. He and his family then moved to 120 Wardour Street, very close to the renowned bow makers, James and Charles Edwards Tubbs (his bows are occasionally found to bear some semblance to those of Tubbs, however, this is in first appearances only, with the finer details lacking). He had an ambiguous career with no clarification as to what his main profession was as sometimes this was documented as ‘Luthier’, and at other times ‘bow maker’. We are unsure as to why, but his career seemed short-lived. The location of his death shows the sad information that he ended his days in a workhouse, in fact it was the Union Workhouse in Sevenoaks, only a short distance from our shop.
We are grateful for the information we have gained on this subject from the American consultant and expert, Philip Kass who, following extensive research, wrote a detailed article for the May 2012 Strad magazine.
The bow pictured above is a fine and rare example of Thomassin’s work and is identical to the bow featured in Kass’s article. It has excellent playing qualities, as you would expect from a good French bow and bears the stamp ‘T. Victor’.
This violin, by and labeled Matthew Hardie is a good and characteristic example of his work. The two piece back has a well defined broad flame running diagonally from the centre joint, with similar ribs. The scroll is not as figured, but shows a skillful hand. The table is also of two pieces and has medium to open grain, with elegant, elongated sound holes. The violin is varnished with a vibrant orange brown colour, thinly applied over a lustrous golden ground.
Matthew Hardie was born in Jedburgh, Scotland on 23rd November 1754. Commonly known as the ‘Scottish Stradivarius’ he is Scotland’s most esteemed and famous maker. He served an apprenticeship as a joiner after leaving school and then joined the Military service in 1778 until 1782. By 1784 he was an established instrument repairer and the first evidence of his violin making was in Edinburgh in 1790, though he may well have been making before this judging by the refined quality of his work. Hardie’s workmanship is typically clean and well finished with well defined purfling and sound holes placed in a high position.
His style developed over the years, early examples inspired by Stradivari’s long-pattern moving on to a shorter and broader form after 1800 and latterly becoming bolder in style. While influenced by the great makers, he was not a copyist. Though he had success during his life and had good contacts, working for the Edinburgh Musical Society and business dealing with Longman and Broderip in London, he struggled with debt and found himself in jail on a number of occasions, spending his final months in a debtors’ prison before being laid to rest in an unmarked grave in Edinburgh on 31st August 1826, aged 71.
Born in 1727, Benjamin Banks lived and worked in Salisbury until he died in 1795. Initially training with his uncle, Banks went on to have a productive career as a craftsman, producing a large number of keyboard instruments, in addition to instruments of the violin family. This combination clearly suited Banks, as he collaborated with among others, the London firm ‘Longman & Broderip’ who sold his violins in return for keyboard instruments supplied to Banks in Salisbury.
Bank’s violins are often branded beneath the button with the ‘Longman & Broderip’ stamp, as well as other examples bearing variations of his name such as ‘BB’, ‘B.Banks’, ‘Banks’, or in some cases completely unstamped. Nevertheless, Banks’ style of making is very distinctive, and therefore, fairly straightforward to recognise, modeling his instruments after both Stainer and Amati. In addition to this, Banks had a very clear idea concerning the construction of his violins. He produced a sculptural form of arching, almost too exaggerated, combined with an outline that included elongated, perfectly shaped, and rounded corners contributing to an overall high level of attention to detail.
The violin featured here is no exception, and is modeled on the grand pattern of Nicolo Amati. It has a powerful tone, and includes a certificate of authenticity by Charles Beare.
CHARLES JEAN BAPTISTE COLLIN-MEZIN
Charles Jean Baptiste Collin-Mezin was born in Mirecourt in 1841and began studying violin restoration and making with his father. He also studied with Nicolas-Francois Vuillaume (the lesser known brother of Jean Baptiste – see feature below) in Brussels before settling in Paris in 1867, where he went onto have a successful career, winning numerous awards including being honoured as ‘Officer d’Academie des Beaux-Arts’ in 1884.
The violin featured here is modeled after Stradivari, and includes its original label, stating the violin to be made in 1893. More importantly it bears a hand signed signature internally, which is one of the features that distinguishes the instrument form the many forgeries that exist, due to the rise in popularity of his instruments. This violin has been extremely well cared for since the end of the nineteenth century as it is remains in its original perfect condition.
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