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Jean Baptiste Vuillaume

sku Product SKU:  20855

Jean Baptiste Vuillaume is widely recognized as one of the finest 19th century luthiers, leaving an indelible mark on the French tradition and influencing generations of violin makers and dealers throughout the musical world. His career is marked by a relentless drive to construct the perfect instrument, combining the classical Italian tradition with contemporary French style. He had access to one of the largest caches of old Italian instruments, which he studied assiduously to recreate the great masterpieces, at an affordable price. He was so successful in fact that he counted among his many prizes at World Fairs and International Exhibitions, as well as the Cross of the Legion of Honor, the highest honor in France. Never satisfied to rest upon his laurels, Vuillaume unceasingly strove for superior quality throughout his career, constructing together with his talented staff of luthiers nearly 3,000 superb instruments. 

After working in the heart of Paris for 30 years, Vuillaume had fashioned a flourishing business through careful attention to clients of all incomes, brilliant innovations in the craft, and a unique synthesis of contemporary French elegance inspired by the old Italian masterworks of Stradivarius and Guarneri del Gesu. His customers included great musicians like Piatti, Servais, and Paganini, great pedagogues like De Beriot, Savart, and Dancla, and nobility from Spain to Russia. Later generations of musicians who performed on Vuillaumes include such legends as Fritz Kreisler, Eugène Ysaÿe, Isaac Stern, and countless musicians in the world's top orchestras and recording studios. 

At his shop at 46 rue Croix-des-Petits-Champs, where he built his reputation and business from 1828-1858, he hired several craftsmen to assist him. Among these workers included some of the best craftsmen of the time: Hippolyte Silvestre, Paul Bailly, and August Gemunder, among others. Despite such expert help, Vuillaume always did the finishing work himself, never letting an instrument leave his atelier without his exacting scrutiny. In this way, he guaranteed that the archings would facilitate the silky power desired by Europe's best musicians, that the scrolls were masterfully conceived and sculpted, that the purfling was perfectly laid- in short that his instruments were up to his highest of standards both tonally and aesthetically.

Made in the early to mid-1850s, this violin was made at the height of his mastery, around the time he was awarded the Legion of Honor (1851), and his last gold medal at the Paris Universal Exhibition (1855). A dynamic Guarneri Del Gesú copy, we can see the strong personality of both makers shine through. The low arching produces a robust, energetic tone, at once dark and brilliant. The f-holes are carved with dramatic flair, emulating the great master. The varnish, dark and luscious, exaggerates the violin's commanding presence. The one piece maple back, which has been restored, is quite attractive. A consummate perfectionist, Vuillaume selected woods for their tonal as well as aesthetic qualities, giving this instrument properties that appeal to every sense and sensibility of the performer. Like many Vuillaume violins, this agile instrument combines a lithe and sensitive response with a glowing, compelling sound, ideal for the expressive virtuoso.

Article by Raphael Gold
All photographs by Richard Ward

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Charles Adolphe Gand

sku Product SKU:  18794

Like so many of the finest luthiers, Charles Adolph Gand grew up in a family with a long lineage of important makers. His pedigree can be traced back to Nicolas Lupot of Orleans, arguably France’s most influential maker. After studying with and working for Francois Pique, the first of the French makers working in the “modern” style, Lupot set up in Paris in 1798. His accolades include an appointment to the Imperial Chapel in 1813, luthier to King Louis XVIII in 1816, and a commission as luthier to the Paris Conservatory of Music in 1817, to whom he would make an instrument for the winner of the annual competition. In 1802 he hired Charles Francois Gand, known as Gand Pére, as apprentice.

Charles Francois Gand, the father of Charles Adolph Gand, was himself a first rate luthier. Having learned the “modern” style from his master, Gand Pére constructed instruments on the Stradivarius model rather than the Stainer or Amati models. In other words, he preferred instruments with a flatter arching which achieved a powerful sound fit for contemporary concert halls. In 1820 he acquired the shop of another influential Parisian maker, Koliker, building a large atelier of international importance. Though he was considered a rival to the thriving businesss of Vuillaume and Lupot, he maintained a good relationship with Lupot. When Lupot retired in 1824, he passed all his official appointments to Gand Pére.

Charles Adolph Gand, also known as Gand Frére, took over his father’s shop in 1845. Steeped in a rich tradition of France’s best luthiers, Gand flourished as one of the finest makers of his generation. Working with his brother Eugene, he won 1st prize at the Paris Exhibition in 1855, receiving the prize directly from Napoleon III, the emperor of France. In 1862 he was made Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, the highest honor in France. A source of national pride, he was also the official luthier to the Paris opera and to the Emperor. Because he was an acclaimed expert of old instruments he had limited time to make instruments. Yet his entire production is of the highest quality, and is sought after by collectors and professional musicians alike.

This violin is exemplary of his production. All the woodwork is exquisite and elegant, the varnish a rich red with a touch of antiquing. The tone is clear and fresh with plenty of power. It is in exceptional condition and would be fit for a collector or professional musician.

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