Miniature Guitar by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume

10 • A Miniature Guitar by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaum

15 cm long; spruce and maple with ebony veneered on neck and head
Signed and dated inside: ‘Vuillaume, Paris, 1828’

Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume (1798–1875) was the greatest violin-maker of the 19th century, as well as innovator, restorer and prolific tradesman. His inventoried instruments number over 3,000 and each is renowned for its soloist- quality sound and consistently exceptional standard of workmanship.

Vuillaume was born into a traditional but undistinguished violin-making background in Mirecourt, northeastern France, but moved to Paris in 1818 to apprentice for the capital’s luthiers. In 1827 he opened his own workshop on rue Croix des Petits Champs, which employed some of the most talented craftsmen of the time. It soon became the most important musical instrument workshop in Paris and within twenty years it led Europe, winning countless awards and landing Vuillaume the Legion d’Honneur in 1851.

Vuillaume’s insatiable curiosity and pursuit of quality took him all over Europe in search of instruments that he would bring back, restore and study; most instruments from the great makers would have passed through his workshop at one time or another. He was also a great innovator, developing new instruments and mechanisms, most notably ‘self-rehairing’ bows, a large viola he called a ‘contralto,’ steel bows, and an ‘octobass’, a 3-stringed triple bass which stood 3.5 metres tall.

This miniature guitar is a perfect illustration of that innovation: a masterpiece of craftsmanship using all the same techniques, principles and materials as a normal-sized guitar, though demonstrating the finer skill needed to produce on a smaller scale. It must have held some significance for Vuillaume because he kept it in his workshop until his death in 1875.

Exhibited at Cité de la Musique, Paris, during the exhibition ‘Violons Vuillaume’ (23 October 1998 – 31 January 1999).

Vuillaume in his workshop, 1860
Vuillaume in his workshop, 1860