Vuillaume’s ‘Alard’ bows: Small but beautiful

Figure 1

In the extensive literature concerning Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, there is very little about one of his more remarkable innovations: a refinement of the bow frog design that can be seen on many examples from his workshop. Michel Samson explains how the so-called ‘Alard’ bow was designed to make life easier for ...

A great deal has been written about the multifaceted career of Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume. There have been meticulously researched biographies, anniversary publications and, certainly not least, the catalogue for the Vuillaume exhibition marking the 1998 opening of the Musée de la Musique in Paris. To the reader of the aforementioned accounts, Vuillaume might look like the P.T. Barnum of violin dealing of his day. However, for the sake of completeness, I will start at the beginning.

Vuillaume was born on 7 October 1798 into a well-established family of Mirecourt violin makers. After completing his apprenticeship, the restless and ambitious young luthier found his way to the French capital and established his own shop at 40 rue des Petits-Champs. By 1828 he was a well-trained craftsman as well as an astute businessman.

During this period there was a great surge in demand for historic Italian violins, and Vuillaume’s business acumen swiftly brought him commercial success. This financial stability allowed him to focus on research in the fields of acoustics, and experimental violin and bow making. Together with acoustics specialist Félix Savart he studied the vibrations of historic Italian instruments and explored innovative designs such as the giant ‘Octobass’ and a large-sized viola he called the ‘contralto’. He developed a ‘self-rehairing’ bow (see In Focus, June 2017), experimented with making a bow out of steel in an attempt to find alternatives to rare pernambuco, and gave his bows elegant embellishments, such as embedding a Stanhope lens in the frog instead of a mother-of-pearl eye. When the viewer looked through the lens, they might see a portrait of a violinist such as Nicolò Paganini or Jean-Delphin Alard, although several of Vuillaume’s bows contained a photograph of himself holding a violin. In large part, his enduring renown among bow makers can be credited to his pioneering analysis of examples made by François Xavier Tourte…

Already subscribed? Please sign in

Subscribe to continue reading…

We’re delighted that you are enjoying our website. For a limited period, you can try an online subscription to The Strad completely free of charge.

  • Free 7-day trial

    Not sure about subscribing? Sign up now to read this article in full and you’ll also receive unlimited access to premium online content, including the digital edition and online archive for 7 days.

    No strings attached – we won’t ask for your card details

  • Subscribe 

    No more paywalls. To enjoy the best in-depth features and analysis from The Strad’s latest and past issues, upgrade to a subscription now. You’ll also enjoy regular issues and special supplements* and access to an online archive of issues back to 2010.


* Issues and supplements are available as both print and digital editions. Online subscribers will only receive access to the digital versions.