Jean Baptiste Vuillaume was the single most influential personality in the violin world of the 19th century. A prolific maker, inventor, connoisseur and dealer, he established Paris as the centre of the violin trade, which it remained until after his death.
Vuillaume moved to Paris in 1818 and trained with François Chanot and Lété before establishing his own business in the rue Croix des Petits Champs in 1827. He remained there until 1858, when he moved to the rue Demours at Les Ternes. During his career he employed many of the most skilled violin and bow makers of his day, including Nestor Audinot, Charles Maucotel, Hippolyte Silvestre, Honoré Derazey, the Peccatte brothers, Jean Persoit, Joseph Fonclause, Pierre Simon and François Voirin.
Vuillaume’s early instruments were very much in the mould of Lupot, but he soon began to developas a copyist, particularly of Stradivari and Guarneri del Gesù, and occasionally
of Maggini and Amati. His love of old instruments had a strong influence on his work. In 1838 he met Paganini, and subsequently made a number of copies of the ‘Cannon’ Guarneri del Gesù, as can be seen in the violin dated 1847 featured in this archive. In 1855 he famously acquired the ‘Messie’ Stradivari from Luigi Tarisio, and made many fine ‘Messie’ copies, such as the one from the year 1866.
Although Vuillaume boasted of his skills as a copyist, and allegedly tried to palm Paganini off with a copy of the ‘Cannon’, his instruments are not easily confused with the originals. In a career spanning over half a century, he and his workshop produced more than 3,000 instruments, and the fact that they exist in such great numbers makes them relatively easy to identify. In addition, the vast majority of them are labelled, branded, numbered and signed as Vuillaume’s work.