The star lot of our inaugural Berlin auction is the ‘ex – Jean Pierre Maurin’, a superb violin made by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini in Milan in 1751. In this week’s Carteggio, I’ll take us on a short tour of this violin and its history. The auction ends on Monday, October 25th.
“A very pure example … we have rarely seen one in such a fine state of preservation. It conforms to the finest type of the instruments made at Milan.”
– W. E. Hill & Sons, London
“An outstanding specimen of the master’s best Milano period.”
– Emil Herrmann, New York
“Possessed of outstanding tonal qualities.”
– Ernest N. Doring, Chicago
“One of the finest examples extant.”
– Kenneth Warren & Son, Chicago
– Albert Caressa, Paris
“An outstanding representation of the master’s Milan period at his best.”
– William Moennig & Son, Philadelphia
We know from Albert Caressa that in the late 19th century this violin was owned by Jean Pierre Maurin (1822-1894), the violinist and pedagogue who formed a bridge between the 19th-century giants and ensuing generations of musicians. A student of Baillot and Habeneck at the Conservatoire de Paris, Maurin formed the Maurin Quartet and was instrumental in building appreciation for Beethoven’s late quartets. In 1875 he was appointed professor at the Conservatoire de Paris, taking over the position from Jean Delphin Alard. Among his pupils, the standout was Lucien Capet who in turn taught Jascha Brodsky and Ivan Galamian.
There are three important violins associated with Maurin: a 1718 Stradivari currently in the possession of the Royal Academy of Music in London; a late period Stradivari dating from c. 1729; and this Guadagnini. Maurin died in 1894 and the whereabouts of this violin for the subsequent two decades remains unknown. By 1917 the violin was in the possession of Wurlitzer in Cincinnati who described it as a “very representative example” with “unusually handsome maple”. Wurlitzer sold the violin subsequently to several prominent American collectors including Eugenio Sturchio of Newark, John Hudson Bennett of New York and Esther Coplin of Mt. Vernon.
The violin was known to Ernest Doring who in the 1940s was compiling his groundbreaking catalog of Guadagnini’s instruments which was first published in 1949 The Guadagnini Family of Violin Makers. In 1944 Emil Herrmann sold the violin to the investment banker and violin collector Henry Hottinger describing it as “an outstanding specimen of the master’s best Milano period in the most perfect state of preservation.” According to a note in Herrmann’s handwriting on the cover of the certificate, the violin was subsequently transferred to Dr. William H. Kane of Oswego, Oregon on August 1, 1952.
In 1963 the violin was for sale at Kenneth Warren & Son in Chicago, where it was offered as “one of the finest examples extant” in a “practically perfect state of preservation.” While in the possession of Warren & Son, the violin was sent to W. E. Hill & Sons in London for an opinion. Arthur Phillips Hill referred to it as a “very pure example,” writing, “we have rarely seen one in such a fine state of preservation. It conforms to the finest type of the instruments made at Milan.”
In 1963 or early 1964 Kenneth Warren Sr. sold the violin to Carl Racine of Albuquerque, New Mexico and then in 1967 William Moennig & Son sold it to Dr. Adolph H. Bernhard, an optometrist and amateur violinist. At the time, Bill Moennig Jr. described the violin as “an outstanding representation of the master’s Milan period at his best.”
By 1993 the violin had returned to Europe and was in the possession of Olivier Jaques, the Swiss collector. In 1996 Jaques sold the violin to its current owner. A certificate from Etienne Vatelot was obtained at the time of sale.
As far as Guadagnini’s go, the ‘ex-Maurin’ is outstanding. The wood is first class, the varnish is stunning, the work is refined but not overwrought and the condition is excellent. This is the sort of violin that I get excited about. We are thrilled to present it for sale on October 25th.
Guadagnini arrived in Milan in 1749 and left in 1758 and the instruments he made over the course of this decade are among the finest of his entire production. This fine violin, dating from 1751, shows the emergence of the maker’s strong personal style.
The back is formed of two pieces of what Wurlitzer referred to as “unusually handsome maple”. The broad flames ascend upwards from the center joint. The edges are broad and the fluting shallow. The center joint is remarkably off-center as seen at the button and the locating pins are characteristically offset.
The corners are wide and square, and the purfling mitres bisect the corners down the middle. On the front, the soundholes show Guadagnini’s typical almond shaped upper and lower lobes and gently tapering wings. The distance between the upper sound-holes is 43.5 cm, quite wide for a violin. The label is original and undisturbed.
The scroll is one of my favourite features of this instrument. The volute is slightly potted, meaning the turns of the volute are somewhat undercut. Instead of resembling cylinders when viewed from the front or back, the volute looks like flower pots tapering slightly inwards. The narrowest point of the head is also slightly forward of where you expect it to be which gives the scroll the impression of leaning forward.
The characteristic center scribe line is prominent, but the maker wasted no effort keeping precisely to the scribe line. There are parts of the back of the head which veer off from the scribed center and the symmetry of the whole is undisturbed. The centerline of the back of the head is also taller than the highest part of the outside edge which indicates that the chamfer was cut as a last step. A straight-edge set perpendicular to the scribe line will see-saw from one chamfer to the next, a characteristic feature of Guadagnini scrolls from this period.
There are two intriguing lines running down the center of the fluting when viewed from the front which appear to be original to the instrument. They are covered with seemingly undisturbed original varnish and are perhaps artifacts of whatever rasp was used to carve the fluting. Similar marks can be seen on the back of the head.
Perhaps my favorite quirk of this scroll are the square shaped tracing points left along the edge of the final turn and eye. Before the scroll was cut, the maker used a template to trace the outline of the head and the turns of the volute into a block of maple. The template most likely was made of paper with holes every few millimeters along its outline. The maker would poke an awl through each hole and into the block of wood so that when he was done, the precise outline of the volute would be visible. Most of these tracing points would be carved away but those around the eye and final turns would be left. When the violin was varnished, they would have been filled with varnish to appear darker than the wood around them. In this head we can see a very precious detail: Guadaganini’s awl was facented square, not round. The final tracing points are square, not round.
The varnish is a glorious deep red color undisturbed over much of the instrument. The contours of the wear pattern at the back reveal that the varnish has considerable thickness and body.
On the front, the varnish seems to have soaked into the spruce in places, breaking through whatever isolation or ground layer was used to prepare the instrument before the colored varnish was applied. This is most noticeable in the lower bass bouts. There are sections of the back too where the colored varnish has penetrated the ground layer resulting in a beautiful dichromatic effect.
It’s no surprise that this Guadagnini inspired a succession of superlatives and praise by the experts who knew it. In its smallest details and its broadest strokes we find evidence of a supremely talented maker working boldly, taking risks and achieving an exceptional result.
Online bidding is now open. You can view the complete catalogue here.
 Certificate, Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, New York (May 7, 1930).
 Interestingly in 1921 Dr. Sturchio traded two Guadagnini violins, a Rugeri and other instruments in exchange for a 1734 Guarneri which turned into the subject of a dispute which made headlines in the New York Times on November 10, 1921.
 The Guadagnini Family of Violin Makers, Ernest N. Doring, Chicago, 1949.
 Certificate, Emil Herrmann, New York (October 30, 1944).
 Ibid, annotated (August 1, 1952).
 The Strad, advertisement from Kenneth Warren & Son (November 1963).
 Letter from W. E. Hill & Sons, London (March 30, 1960).
 Ibid, annotated by Kenneth Warren Sr. (August 16, 1964).
 The Strad, interview with Bruce Carlson, October, 2011, p. 44.
 Certificate, William Moennig & Son, Philadelphia (November 9, 1967).
 Letter, Olivier Jaques, Zurich (September 11, 1996).
 Bill of Sale, Olivier Jaques, Zurich (August 28, 1996).
 Certificate, Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, New York (May 7, 1930).