J.B. Vuillaume

Jean Baptiste Vuillaume was born in Mirecourt in 1798. His father, Claude François Vuillaume, trained him in violin making as a young man. In 1818, J.B. Vuillaume moved to Paris to work for the acoustic scientist François Chanot, who had developed a “guitar-violin” with unique acoustic qualities. In 1821, he joined the workshop of Nicolas Antoine Lété, having exhausted his opportunities with Chanot, and by 1823 he was signing instruments with his own labels. In 1825, Vuillaume opened a new workshop with Lété, and in 1828, he opened his own workshop. At this point he began to focus on copying old models, particularly those of Stradivarius. In fact, he owned dozens of original Stradivarius instruments including one in new condition – the Messiah violin. Vuillaume became notorious for his remarkably accurate models, and so his workshop became profoundly successful.

The Vuillaume workshop produced more than 3000 instruments throughout J.B.’s life. He was constantly developing original models including a large viola called the “Contralto”, a large bass called the “Octobass”. He also invented a great variety of tools for efficient instrument production and performance. Vuillaume was very particular about the wood he used for his instruments, and he often traveled personally to Austria or Switzerland to collect entire trees or furniture fragments. He was equally obsessed with developing an authentic Cremonese varnish, and he tried hard to get Stradivarius’ original recipe to no avail. Regardless, his own recipe appeared remarkably close to Stradivarius’, and often his copies could hardly be distinguished from the originals. Of course, this was also due to his outstanding workmanship.

Vuillaume received the highest honors for his work, including silver medals at the French Industrial Expositions of 1827 and 1834, and gold medals in 1844 and 1849. In 1851, he received the council medal at the International London Exhibition, and in 1855, he won the gold medal at the Paris International Exhibition. In 1867, he was awarded the Hors Concours in Paris, meaning he had attained so high a standard of work that he would no longer be able to participate in the competition.

Many of the 20th century’s most significant Parisian luthiers trained in Vuillaume’s workshop, including Paul Bailly, Maurice Mermillot, George Chanot, George Gemünder, and Ludwig Neuner. For many years Vuillaume worked with his brother, Nicolas Vuillaume, who opened his own workshop in Brussels later on. J.B. Vuillaume was never a bow maker himself, but he employed many talented bow makers and guided them in their training, including François Nicolas Voirin, Jean Joseph Martin, Charles Claude Husson, Charles Louis Buthod, Hippolyte Silvestre, and H.R. Pfretzschner.

J.B. Vuillaume remains one of the most respected luthiers in history. His work is precise and consistently high quality. Vuillaume’s instruments are in outstanding condition. His workmanship and remarkable ability as a luthier has rendered Vuillaume a master of the 20th century.