The cello, which will be presented for auction by Ingles & Hayday this month, has remained in the Vieuxtemps family ever since it was made over 160 years ago

Untitled design (32)

Photo: Ingles & Hayday

1863 ‘ex-Vieuxtemps’ cello by J.B. Vuillaume

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Ingles & Hayday has announced that an 1862 cello by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, commissioned by celebrated violinist Henry Vieuxtemps, will go on sale for the first time this month.

The cello, modelled on Stradivari’s ‘B’ form, was commissioned by Vieuxtemps in 1862 as part of a string quartet, which has remained in the Vieuxtemps family ever since.

The Ingles & Hayday March 2024 auction marks the first time the instrument has ever come to sale. The sale will be online from 22 to 26 March.

The cello is expected to fetch between £200,000 and £300,000. It will be sold with a provenance letter from the Vieuxtemps family, France, dated 21 February 2024 and a copy of Agnès Briolle-Vieuxtemps’ book Symphonie en Lac Majeur, Henry Vieuxtemps, L’âme du violin.

’It’s remarkable to think that this instrument has been kept so lovingly and in such good condition within the Vieuxtemps family since it was commissioned in 1862,’ said Paul Hayday, a director of Ingles & Hayday. 

’It represents a fascinating historical moment, as the result of the mutual respect and admiration of two of the towering musical figures of the 19th century, modelled with exquisite craftsmanship by Vuillaume on Stradivari’s form. It’s also interesting to speculate how Vieuxtemps might have been inspired by hearing this cello as he composed his chamber music and cello concertos.’

Instrument expert John Dilworth writes of the cello: ‘It is a fine Stradivari model, the scroll in particular an immaculately carved reproduction of the Golden Period. The body follows Stradivari’s ”B” form, one of his greatest and most innovative designs, introduced in around 1707.

’The materials throughout are of the finest; the back is of two matched quartered pieces, with a very regular and perfect rising flame.’

Described as titans of the 19th-century music world, with Vieuxtemps being an international violin star and founder of the Franco-Belgian school, and Vuillaume a prolific luthier and dealer of the time, the two men were friends, evidenced by their letter correspondence.

’With my luthier friend, I shared all my thirst for sounds,’ wrote Vieuxtemps of Vuillaume. ’He confided in me that he had understood Stradivari’s secret regarding the varnish he used, I was amazed. Its sounds were indeed worthy of a Stradivarius.

’Vuillaume was an artist. A great artist. And he was the only one! I sent all my musician friends to his “luxury clinic” for exceptional instruments.’

Vuillaume spoke fondly of Vieuxtemps: ’I cannot find words to express all the pleasure we felt yesterday admiring you as a violinist and as a composer. Admired is the word, and we are still delighted and spellbound by your magnificent talent.’

Vieuxtemps commissioned Vuillaume in 1862, with the instruments delivered to him in 1863. When Vieuxtemps died in 1881, the entire quartet passed to his son, Maximilien Vieuxtemps (1848–1926) and then grandson Jean Vieuxtemps (1897–1959). The instruments were then shared between Henry’s great-grandchildren, with the two violins and violas sold to Étienne Vatelot and the cello remaining with Jean-François Vieuxtemps, an amateur cellist, who passed it to his children, the current owners.

The following video showcases the work of both Vuillaume and Vieuxtemps: cellist Timothée Botbol performs Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, op. 46 II. Andante by Vieuxtemps on the 1862 Vuillaume cello, accompanied by pianist John Paul Ekins.

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