France School

The earliest violin that appeared in what is today known as France dates back to 1560. Charles IX of France (1550-1574) ordered a batch of instruments from Andrea Amati which included twelve large violins (around 351mm long) , twelve small violins (341mm long) , six violas and 8 cellos.

Charles IX also invited Sofonisba Anguissola (1535-1625) , a renowned female painter at the time, to paint on the instruments, but with the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1792, all the instruments had thought to be lost entirely. Only about ten of the above-mentioned string instruments were eventually found. They have become a valuable heritage from antiquity and they mark an important starting point in the history of French violin making.

Around 1670, due to the advancement of marine transportation, there were frequent contacts between places in Belgium, Holland, and Italy’s Genoa. This influenced the violin making style of the Belgian region, and due to geographical factors, the styles of Belgian and Dutch luthiers also influenced the early French luthiers.

The earliest violin in the French region appeared in Nancy in 1690 — a violin made by the Medard family. The Medard family is the earliest known luthier family in France, with most of its family members found in Nancy and Miercourt. Because not very many records could be found on the Medard family, it could not be verified how the Medards influenced the violin making industries of these two places, but it is certain that they are two of the earliest cities to develop the craft of violin making in the French region.

The true Parisian luthiers made their mark after the 1700s. During this period, three luthiers stood out among them: Jacques Boquary, Claude Pierray, and Pierry Veron (1690-1730) . Jacques Boquary’s style of design for the violin was deeply influenced by the Belgian school, especially Gaspar Borbon (1632-1710) . One characteristic feature of the Belgian school was the inlay rib found on the instruments, and the French luthiers incorporated this technique when making their instruments. Before the 1750s, most of the luthiers in the Paris area imported this technique, and Miercourt was still using this technique until 1780.

Beginning around 1750, it became fashionable in Paris to use an earthy yellow varnish with a relatively thin texture. The body of the violin had the luthier’s name engraved and burned into wood. Representative luthiers of this period include Louis Guersan, Jean-Baptiste Salomo (1713-1767) , Andrea Castagneri, and Leopold Renaudin (1755-1795) .

In 1781, the Italian violinist Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824) performed at a premiere in Paris using a violin made by Antonio Stradivari in 1709 (part of the collection of the Chimei Foundation) . The concert was a great success, after which Stradivari’s reputation skyrocketed and he became one of the most imitated luthiers in Paris.

With the end of the French Revolution in 1792, Paris’s economy recovered rapidly and the center of violin making in France gradually shifted from Miercourt to Paris. Paris during this time drew musicians and luthiers from other cities and brought the French violin making industry to its golden age. Representative luthiers from this period include Jean François Aldric (1765-1843) , François Louis Pique (1758-1822) and Nicolas Lupot (1758-1824).

Nicolas Lupot is the most distinguished luthier in the history of violin making in France. Lupot’s son-in-low and pupils brought about a new era of French violin making. After the 1830s, the most famous French luthier was undoubtedly Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume. Vuillaume rose up against a new generation of luthiers; he pushed the French violin making industry to its peak and his influence can still be seen in contemporary French violins.

Leopold Renaudin, 1755-1795

Leopold Renaudin (1755-1795) started working in Paris in 1776. At the time, Renaudin enjoyed a prestigious social position, but unfortunately, after the French Revolution he was sentenced to the guillotine due to political reasons.

The sizes and designs of Renaudin’s violins show a great deal of variety. Usually his instruments tend to be long and narrow, with less prominent arching. The front and back plates show imperfections; some even protrude outward and affect the overall aesthetics. The proportion of the scroll is also rather unusual, which makes it hard to see the top of the volutes from certain angles. One of the distinct features of Renaudin’s instruments is the branding of “Renaudin A Paris” at the back of the instruments.

Renaudin mostly used a transparent yellow-orange varnish typical of the French school, having evolved from the Guersan system, but today the varnish has turned into an opaque, brownish red color due to oxidation.

Renaudin not only made violins, but also many exceptional violas and cellos. He also made many exquisite double basses, but some of his works were destroyed in a fire at the Paris Opera House in 1873.

Jean François Aldric, 1765-1843

Jean François Aldric (1765-1843) is a French luthier born into an ancient family from Mirecourt with three generations of tradition in violin making. He moved to Paris in 1785. Aldric’s instruments show excellent quality, making him one of Paris’s top luthiers after Nicolas Lupot. Aldric was one of the first French luthier to have bought famous Italian string instruments. These instruments were brought into Paris by Luigi Tarisio, and Aldric became the first luthier in France to do business with Tarisio.

Aldric’s instruments followed Stradivari’s model, but he modified the exterior, making the body and the arching look thicker and more voluminous. Aldric’s use of varnish was greatly influenced by Lupot; he used a reddish brown color, eye-catching but lacking in clarity and flexibility in texture.

In terms of timbre, Aldric’s instruments were considered exceptional among string instruments in France at the time. Many of his cellos were considered excellent to be used especially for concerts. As for labels, Aldric used many different labels: the printed labels came with beautiful floral decorations, while the handwritten ones were more unique and relatively rare. Aldric’s newphew, Jacques Aubry, inherited his business in 1840.

Nicolas Augustin Chappuy, 1730-1784

Nicolas Augustin Chappuy (1730-1784) had worked for Jean-Baptiste Salomo (1713-1767) and between the years 1750 and 1770 he worked as a luthier in both Mirecourt and Paris. In the history of violinmaking, Chappuy is known for his speed and efficiency for producing large quantities of string instruments. With his refined, meticulous craftsmanship, he was able to make various kinds of instruments according to the needs of his customers or according to his own preferences. The quality of his instruments varies a great deal, ranging from mediocre to exceptional. In terms of the ribs, in his early works Chappuy used the inlay rib technique typical of the Belgian school but stopped using this technique in his later works.

Many of Chappuy’s instruments show certain imperfections such as a relatively wide waist and untrimmed edges, but some instruments with a longer body show an elegant exterior. Generally, the arching on Chappuy’s instruments is not as prominent, and the top and bottom of the F-holes are not very curved. The distance between the two F-holes are relatively far, and the design of the F-holes tends to be slanted, which is very rare. The scrolls are usually larger than most, with elegant carvings and sometimes with small decorative ornaments added to them.

Chappuy usually chose second-rate wood, and he was often criticized for his poor choice of wood. Many of his instruments show irregular wood grains around the F-holes and the rims of the body. But some of his instruments used beautiful red maple wood with straight, regular grain patterns. The body of the violins is usually 14 1/16 inches, with the letters A. Chappuy or Chappuy A Paris branded at the back.

Joseph Bassot, 1740-1808

Joseph Bassot (1740-1808) was born in Mirecourt. He relocated to work in Paris in 1774 until his death in 1808. Instruments labelled with Bassot’s name were all made by the luthier himself, but a company in Mirecourt acquired many of his works after his death.

Bassot’s instruments followed Nicolas Lupot’s rendition of the Stradivari model. (Lupot imitated Stradivari’s model and modified it to create his own violin making style.) Bassot did not show a strong individual style, but his carvings, especially of the F-holes, were refined and detailed. His early works showed a more prominent arching in the body, and an orange-tinted varnish, but he later switched to a light reddish brown varnish with a texture that was neither too oily nor dry.

Bassot’s choice of wood was fairly consistent, and he used good-quality wood for the front and back (mostly hard maple wood from France). Bassot’s most distinguishing feature was his refined carvings of the scroll, which were more meticulous than the overall design of the instrument. The rim shows a slight bulging out, and is attached to the ribs with a dark-colored varnish. As for the purflings, Bassot was one of the few French luthiers who used whale bone as purfling material. In addition, Bassot’s instruments were usually slightly smaller than most, which make them easier for handling by performers.

With regards to timbre, Bassot’s instruments project a smooth and clear tone, unlike the vigorous, dynamic timbre of Italian string instruments. This feature often attracts many musicians. Besides violins, Bassot’s violas were also well praised.

Jean Nicolas Lambert, fc. 1731-1761

Jean Nicolas Lambert’s (fc. 1731-1761) date of birth and date of death have not been verified but it is known that he made string instruments between the years 1731 and 1761.

Lambert’s string instruments are usually larger in size, not only longer in the length of the body, but also wider than most violins. The F-holes are also relatively longer, and show a greater distance between the left and right side, with carvings showing some imperfections. The larger proportions were considered a new design concept at the time, probably derived from modifications to meet the performance demands at the time. In addition, the corners of the C-bouts are slightly turned upward, showing influence of the Italian style. As for varnishes, Lambert often used a transparent brownish-yellow varnish.

Lambert’s instruments show intricately designed labels, with curving Arabic flourishes wrapped around the texts, added with a small picture of a lute or violin. The labels are usually found inside the body or on the back, or at various different places of the instruments. Besides labels, sometimes brandings can be found inside the violins with the letters “Lambert A. Paris.”

Nicolas Chappuy, 1730-1781

皮‧尼可拉 (Nicolas Chappuy, 1730-1781),容易與另一位製琴師尼可拉‧奧古斯汀‧夏皮 (Nicolas Augustin Chappuy, 1730-1784) 混淆,所以尼可拉通常以 ”Chappuy N” 為標籤,作為分辨作品的證明。

Jean Colin, fc. 1745-1770

Jean Colin’s (fc. 1745-1770) date of birth and date of death are unverified, but it is known that he worked in Mirecourt between the years 1745 and 1770. However, the inscriptions on his instruments show the instruments to be made in Paris.

Colin’s violins reveal very deep curves at the waist, moderate arching of the body, and slightly slanting but elegant sound holes. His varnishes are mostly dry, transparent varnishes made more from resin. As for the ribs, Colin used the inlay rib technique of the Belgian system.

Pierre Joseph Hel, 1842-1902

Pierre Joseph Hel (1842-1902) was born in Mazirot. He made his first violin at the age of 15 and had since made more than 400 string instruments in his life. Hel’s instruments followed the models created by Stradivari, Amati and Guarneri, but he also sometimes made instruments based on his own concepts which diverted from traditional forms.

Georges Enesco (1881-1995) played on one of Hel’s violins in his 1923 American concert tour; it was the first time Hel’s instrument was introduced to the wider public. Among Hel’s instruments, those with larger proportions are considered more exceptional. These instruments show distinctively intricate craftsmanship and often a fiery red and orange red varnish. In 1924 Hel made a violin especially for the Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris and name it ”Rossignol.” This violin was acquired by Robert Hecquet, a renowned soloist from Lille.

Not only was Hel a string instrument maker, he was also a bow maker. He was especially known his well-balanced bows marked with the label “Pierry Hel.”

Claude Pirot, fc. 1792-1835

Claude Pirot’s dates of birth and death were not verified, but it is known that he worked actively as a luthier in Paris between the years 1792-1835. Pirot’s instruments were modelled after Stradivari’s later-period moulds, which consist of a longer and wider body and an overall elegant proportion. In addition, Pirot was also influenced by the style of Nicolas Lupot: The corners around the C-bouts are thicker and the arching of the front and back are more rounded than most French string instruments. These asymmetrical designs caused some controversies, but overall Pirot’s instruments were recognized as having a solid structure and a bright, clear timbre.

Pirot’s instruments usually reveal intricate carvings on the scroll and a relatively long pegbox. He chose high quality wood and used only a single plate for the back. The design of the sound holes follows the style of Stradivari, with all sides being symmetrical. His use of varnishes consists of a thick reddish brown varnish, sometimes using a reddish brown with a light yellow hue. In addition, he sometimes used a dark purple varnish in a small number of his works.

Etienne Vatelot, 1925-?

Etienne Vatelot (1925-) is a renowned French violin maker and repairer, as well as an appraiser of French string instruments and bows. He holds a very well-respected position in the field of appraisal and repair of French string instruments. He has published a series of books titled Les Archets Francais.

Etienne studied violin making from a very young age under his father Marcel Vatelot, who was a very famous luthier in Paris at the time. In 1946 he began to study under Amédée Dieudonné (1890-1960) in Mirecourt and later returned to Paris to learn instrument repair from Victor Quénoil (1889-1959). In 1949 Etienne stayed in New York for several months, after which he returned to work at his father’s studio. When he took over his father’s business in 1959 Etienne was still making continual progress in his violin making technique, knowledge and repair technique. During the years 1965-1969 he served as the president of the French Violin Makers' Society.

Etienne mostly uses varnishes with a reddish hue or a golden yellow color. Both Jean Eulry and De Lignon (1909-?) are his well-trained assistants and pupils.

Pierre Pacherele, 1803-1871

Pierre Pacherele (1803-1871) was born Mirecourt. He devoted himself to the violin making industry at a young age. In 1829 he moved to Turin and worked with Giovanni Pressenda and Joseph Calot until 1832, during which he moved to Nice. The earliest known instrument with Pacherele’s label dates back to 1834. Between 1835 and 1854, Pacherele travelled frequently between Nice and Turin. He died in Nice in 1871.

Pacherele’s instruments followed Stradivari’s model. According to the French perspective at the time, Stradivari’s instruments provided the best model for string instruments. Some of Pacherele’s works were influenced by Pressenda’s early style, with the back showing fine grain patterns. Pacherele’s choice of wood is of excellent quality; the scroll and purfling reveal intricate, detailed craftsmanship, and the proportion of the sound holes is fittingly precise.

Pacherele made many outstanding instruments, following models of Stradivari, Guarneri and Pressenda. His use of varnishes can be categorized into two types: a thin red varnish (also chestnut brown, orange red), which shows a transparent, thin texture resulting in a brighter, clearer timbre, and a transparent, golden yellow varnish with a thicker texture resulting in the instrument being less responsive to vibrations and a duller timbre.

After the death of Pacherele in 1871, his pupil Augustin Blanchi took over his business and later Albertus Blanchi and Pierre Gaggini passed on his legacy.