François-Nicolas Voirin (1833-1885) was perhaps the most important French bow maker of the second half of the 19th century. After an apprenticeship in his hometown of Mirecourt with Jean Simon (a relative of the more famous Pierre Simon), Voirin moved to Paris in 1855 to join the workshop of his cousin, J.B. Vuillaume.
The heads of the early bows Voirin made for Vuillaume are reminiscent of Pierre Simon’s model, which he appears to have emulated successfully enough that his early bows branded Vuillaume were often confused with Simon’s until the publication of the seminal work L’Archet Français by the late Etienne Vatelot in 1976 clarified the distinction.
While in Vuillaume’s employ, Voirin successfully adopted the Vuillaume-style frog, with its rounded ferrule, faceted bottom edges, and curved tracking and underslide for seating the frog onto the stick. Voirin’s work took other experimental forms for Vuillaume including a style rarely met with known as the “Alard” frog design, presumably developed collaboratively with Vuillaume’s son-in-law, the famous contemporary Parisian violinist Delphin Alard.1
Voirin was also responsible for the manufacture of many Vuillaume bows that included a Stanhope lens mounted in place of an eye in the frog, each with a view of St. Cecile (patron saint of music), Niccolò Paganini, François Tourte, Antonio Stradivari, or J. B. Vuillaume himself.2 Vuillaume clearly recognized and valued Voirin’s talent and contributions, citing him by name as collaborator for a number of bows featured in an exhibition in 1867.3 Voirin developed his archetypal, elegant head design while working in the Vuillaume workshop.
In 1870, after 15 years in the Vuillaume atelier, Voirin moved on to set up his own shop in Paris and began to brand bows “F.N. Voirin a Paris.”4 Once on his own, Voirin made relatively fewer Vuillaume-model frogs, and the heads of the bows became progressively more slender and elegant.
The three bows pictured above are representative of the consistently high quality of the later output of Voirin. Crafted after 1870, these bows are made with special materials and display the high style and unimpeachable technical prowess evident on all of the mature output from Voirin. The frequent use of special wood and fancy mountings during Voirin’s mature period are an indication of orders from clientele of means: such orders demonstrate that Voirin had, by this time, earned respect and status as one of the very best craftsmen of the day.
Viola bows by Voirin are rarely encountered but the one pictured below is representative of Voirin’s mature style.
If Voirin’s bows are generally less popular than the bows of Sartory, it is at least in part due to the greater variability in the weight and strength of his bows. Voirin’s bows are often lighter and softer than those of Sartory, and 20th and 21st century fashion has tended to favor stronger, heavier sticks. Still, Voirin bows have always been much admired by some of the greatest musicians as well as by connoisseurs.
Unfortunately for the world of bow making, Voirin died quite suddenly in 1885 at the age of 51. His legacy includes a great number of elegant and distinctive bows made to the highest possible standards, as well as an enduring influence on French bow making after him. From a technical perspective, Voirin was among the very best French bow makers of all time and his influence on the generation of makers after him cannot be overstated. Voirin’s gleaming technical standards and refined designs served as a model for many of the great craftsman of the late 19th and early 20th century, including those he worked with directly such as Charles Peccatte, Charles Claude Husson, Alfred Lamy, Louis Thomassin and C.N. Bazin, as well as the generation after, including Claude Thomassin and Eugene Sartory. The echoes of style and standards set by Voirin have continued to resonate through the 20th Century and beyond.
- Roger Millant, Jean Baptiste Vuillaume, Sa Vie et son Ouevre, (London: W.E. Hill and Sons, 1972), 84.
- Millant, 109. (For a history of the Stanhope lens see: Kass, Phillip, Journal of the Violin Society of America, Vol. XIII, No. 3.)
- Bernard Millant, Jean-François Raffin, Bernard Gaudfroy, Les Archet, Vol.II, (Paris, L’Archet Editions, 2000), 362.
- Millant, Raffin, Gaudfroy, 362-365.