The vast output from the Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume atelier—reportedly 4,000 instruments—is most remarkable for the consistent quality of that output. J.B. Vuillaume’s rigorous quality control can be felt in every aspect of the Vuillaume line. From the St. Cecile violins to the bows produced for the shop by the best makers of the day, all of the craftsmen employed by Vuillaume were at their best while working for the Vuillaume enterprise.
Because all of this productivity and success, Vuillaume violins are not as rare today as the work of many other makers, but the quality and consistency of Vuillaumes is such that they are in great demand nonetheless. Authentic J.B. Vuillaume violins of the Guarneri and Strad types do not languish in the inventory of dealers worldwide.
There are relatively few Vuillaume cellos, and while they are sought after, they don’t enjoy quite the reputation of the best Vuillaume Strad and del Gesu model violins.
Rarer still are Vuillaume violas. Most are of the smaller dimensions that were in fashion during the middle of the 19th century. With body lengths less than 16 inches and relatively low rib heights these don’t have internal air space that would be considered optimal for tone by today’s standards, and not surprisingly, Vuillaume violas have the reputation among players of being “squeaky.”
The viola pictured here is a rare and notable exception. Built in 1859, this instrument is, in all regards, a Vuillaume of the highest order. With a body length of 16 11/32 inches and rib heights between 34 and 36mm, this Stradivari-model viola is an ideal size for comfort and tone by today’s standards. The superior dimensions are in clear evidence in the sound of the instrument: it is deep, ringing, sonorous, and even from top to bottom. The wood selection is first rate, the varnish is of the highest quality, and the instrument remains today in nearly unused condition.
This viola came to us directly from an estate: the last owner purchased it from the firm of William Lewis & Son, here in Chicago, in the early 1960’s. Pages from the William Lewis & Son pamphlet reproduced here show the same viola (number 2315) pictured over 40 years ago and establish an unbroken provenance for the instrument right back to J.B. Vuillaume.
With our collective experience of over 80 years in the field, we know of no other French viola that is as desirable from a tonal or collectible point of view.