A Violin after the ‘Messie’ Stradivari, the ‘Saint Paul’
by Jean Baptiste Vuillaume, Paris 1870.
Between 1863 and 1875 Jean Baptiste Vuillaume made a number of instruments dedicated to saints. The catalogue of the 1998 Vuillaume exhibition in Paris notes that Vuillaume produced around a dozen instruments bearing the names of saints, of which nine are known to us.
The first four of these instruments date from 1863, when Vuillaume made the quartet known as ‘The Evangelists’. Whereas the two decorated quartets of 1865 are both numbered in ‘reverse’ order, with the cello first and the first violin last, the Evangelists are numbered as one would expect, with the first violin numbered 2501 and the cello 2504. They are named St. Jean, St. Marc, St. Mathieu and St. Luc, which is plainly in contrast to the traditional ordering of the gospels, and to the order in which they were written (generally considered to be Mark, Matthew, Luke, John). Quite why Vuillaume ordered the Evangelists in this way remains a mystery, but it is not surprising that he chose to name the first violin after St. John, who was, and indeed still is, considered by many to be the most important of the Evangelists.
In the same year, Vuillaume made the ‘St. Joseph’ violin, and in 1864 ‘St. Peter’ and ‘St. Paul’ followed, both of which bear the name of the saint inscribed below the bridge, as do the ‘Evangelists’. ‘St. Peter’ is today held in the Russian State Collection in Moscow, and ‘St. Paul’ is in private hands in the US. In 1870 Vuillaume made another violin which he christened ‘St. Paul’, presumably at the request of his client, a Monsieur Goguel. He carved a tailpiece with the image of the saint, and wrote a letter explaining that he had named the violin ‘St. Paul’ as it was an exact copy of the ‘Messie’ Stradivari. Probably the last of the named instruments is the ‘St. Nicolas’, a Stradivari copy made with a stunning single piece of strongly flamed maple, which dates from 1872.
The violin illustrated here was undoubtedly a specific commission from a Monsieur A. Goguel, to whom Vuillaume made out the original receipt on 10th July 1870 (see illustration on inside front cover).
An exceptional violin by Jean Baptiste Vuillaume, Paris 1870
Vuillaume states that he has given the violin the name ‘Saint Paul’ because it is an exact reproduction ‘in visu et audito’ (in sight and sound) of the ‘Messie’ Stradivari. Again we encounter Vuillaume’s rather loose interpretion of the phrase ‘exact reproduction’, as he chose a single piece of broadly flamed maple for the back, but the prominent grain of the front and the delicately carved tailpiece and pegs add to the feeling of authenticity.
This violin has attracted superlatives ever since it was made. In 1949 it was in the possession of Edgardo Acosta of Paris, at which time it was described by Silvestre & Maucotel as ‘d’une conservation parfaite’ and ‘un des plus beaux spécimens que nous ayons connu’. In the same year H. & C. Tournier added their own comments: ‘exemplaire rare, de toute beauté, et absolument intact’. It was subsequently owned by W. Dean Lucien of Sherman Oaks, California, and in 1961 it belonged to John Malchan of Montclair, California. On 23rd November 1988, the same day that the first violin from the ‘Caraman de Chimay’ quartet was sold at Sotheby’s, the ‘St. Paul’ was auctioned at Christies for £41,800. The buyer was C.M. Sin.
Labelled: Jean Baptiste Vuillaume à Paris, 3, rue Demours-Ternes, JBV, with the date inscribed faintly on the label, it is numbered 2809.
This violin will be offered for sale as lot 167 in Sotheby’s sale of musical instruments on 30th October 2012.