About the maker
Initially an apprentice to his father, Claude Francois, Vuillaume subsequently trained in Paris at the workshop of Nicolas-Antoine Lete.
It wasn’t until 1823 that Vuillaume began signing his own instruments, before later settling in Rue Croix des Petits-Champs under the name of “Lete de Vuillaume”.
During the peak of the Neo-Gothic period in 1827, Vuillaume moved towards crafting imitations of old instruments once he had recognised a promising business model in the art of violin copies.
By 1828, he had perfected his styling to imitate those of the authentic eighteenth century Cremonese instruments.
His Parisian workshop became the most significant of its kind in Paris, soon establishing a reputation as the European frontrunner. A major contributor to his level of success was his purchase of 155 instruments from an Italian tradesman in 1855, including the Stradivari ‘Le Messie’ and twenty-four other various Stradivari’s.
At the pinnacle of his success in 1858, Vuillaume was a multiple gold medal award winner from the Paris Universal Exhibitions, as well as the winner of a Council Medal in London.
The maker, the innovator and the connoisseur
The maker of over 3,000 instruments, Vuillaume was an inspired innovator.
He developed new mechanisms and instruments, most principally the three-stringed Octobass (a triple bass at 3.48m high) and the hollow steel bow.
Inspired by Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri, Vuillaume crafted uncannily accurate copies. Guarneri’s ‘Il Cannone’ was owned by Niccolo Paganini, however, Vuillaume’s copy of the violin was so utterly similar that Paganini could only differentiate the two when playing both instruments.
Throughout his craftsmanship of violin imitations, Vuillaume remained faithful to the essential qualities of the instruments. He retained the thickness, choice of wood and arch shape of the originals. The only difference would usually be the colour of the varnish, the instrument length or the height of the ribs, mostly due to personal preference.
One of the last instruments to come out of Vuillaume’s workshop was a rare violin circa 1874, showcasing inlaid ebony fleur-de-lys designs. It was crafted a year before his death, for the famous dealer David Laurie.