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Born to a Mirecourt family since both his grand-father and his father were engaged in the same trade, Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume arrived in Paris in 1818 to work for François Chanot.
In 1821, he joined the workshop of Simon Lété, François-Louis Pique's son-in-law, rue Pavée St Sauveur. He became his partner and in 1825 settled in the rue Croix des Petits-Champs under the name of "Lété et Vuillaume". His first labels are dated 1823.

This constitutes his first period.

Beginning in 1827, at the height of the Neo-Gothic period when many artists were drawing their inspiration from 15th and 16th century cathedrals and monuments, and in order to satisfy the infatuation of virtuosi and amateurs with great 18th century Italian violin makers, he started imitating old instruments. Some copies were so perfect that, at that time, it was difficult even for a discerning eye to tell the difference.

In 1827, he won a silver medal at the Paris Universal Exhibition.
The following year, in 1828, he set his own business at 46 rue des Petits-Champs and began creating his own models.

This constitutes his second period.

"The Kreisler"

a copy of "The Ole Bull"

His workshop then became the most important in the capital. Within barely twenty years, it became the leading workshop in Europe. A major factor in his success was doubtless his purchase of 144 instruments made by the most celebrated Italian masters, including 24 Stradivari and the famous "Messiah" presently kept at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford (England), from the heirs of an Italian tradesman named Tarisio, for 80,000 francs in 1855.

In 1858, in order to avoid paying the capital's custom-duties on his wood imports, he settled rue Pierre Demours, near the Ternes, which were at that time outside Paris.

He was then at the height of his reputation, having won various gold medals in the Competitions of the popular Paris Universal Exhibitions in 1839, 1844 and 1855, the Council Medal in London in 1851 and, in that same year, the Legion of Honour.

His third period, the Golden Period, took place during the 1860s.

A maker of more than 3,000 instruments - almost all of which are numbered - and a fine tradesman, Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume was also a gifted inventor as is demonstrated by his research in collaboration with the acoustics expert Savart. He also invented a viola which he called a "contralto", the "Octobasse", bows with fixed nut and interchangeable hair, and hollow steel bows, particularly appreciated by Charles de Bériot, among others. Other innovations include the insertion of microfilms (!) in the eye of the frogs of his bows, a kind of mute (the "pédale sourdine") and several machines, including one for manufacturing gut strings of perfectly equal thickness.

Most 19th century great bow makers collaborated with his workshop: Persois, Dominique Peccatte, Guillaume Maline, François-Nicolas Voirin and Joseph Fonclause are among the most celebrated.

"The Kreisler"

"The Count Doria"

Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume was not only a violin maker, a tradesman (he travelled all over Europe in order to find instruments), and an innovator, but also a highly talented restorer.

Due to this fact, most instruments by the great Italian violin makers passed through his workshop. Vuillaume then made accurate measurements of their dimensions and made copies of them. He drew his inspiration from two violin makers: Antonio Stradivari, his favorite violin being the "Messiah", and Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù and the "Cannone" which belonged to Niccolo Paganini; others such as Maggini, Da Salò and Amati were also imitated, but to a lesser extent.

When making these copies, Vuillaume always remained faithful to the essential qualities of the instruments he imitated - their thickness, the choice of the woods, the shape of the arching. The only differences, always the result of a personal decision, were the colour of the varnish, the height of the ribs or the length of the instruments.


His most beautiful violins were decorated with the arms of the Princes who ordered them (Caraman de Chimay, Cheremetoff, Doria), or bore either the name of important biblical characters (the Evangelists) or bird names (the golden pheasant, the thrush.).

He also had practice violins, known as "St Cecilia violins", made by his brother Nicolas de Mirecourt.

The general characteristics of his instruments are as follows :

  • his main contribution to violin making was his work on varnish
  • the purfling's joints are often cut on the straight and not on the bias as tradition requires, in the middle in the pin
  • his brand is burnt at a length of 1 cm
  • there is generally a black dot on the joint of the top under the bridge
  • he used an external mould
  • the stop is generally 193 mm long. In this respect he follows to the French 18th century tradition of a short stop (190 mm), which was traditionally 195 mm long in Italy and even 200 mm long in Germany
  • its serial number is inscribed in the middle inside the instrument
  • its date (only the last two figures) in the upper paraph on the back

"The Golden Pheasant"

His violins of the first period have large edges and his brand was then burnt inside the middle bouts.

The varnish varied from orange-red to red. After 1860, varnish became lighter.

In addition to the above-mentioned bow makers, most 19th century Parisian violin makers worked in his workshop, including Hippolyte Silvestre, Jean-Joseph Honoré Derazey, Charles Buthod, Charles-Adolphe Maucotel, Télesphore Barbé and Paul Bailly.

Nestor Audinot, a pupil of Sébastien Vuillaume, himself Jean-Baptiste's nephew, succeeded him in his workshop in 1875. The celebrated violinists Joseph Joachim, Eugène Ysaÿe and Fritz Kreisler played Vuillaume instruments.





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