Over 50 years of exceptional bow making
When I first became interested in the bows of Eugene Sartory I regularly heard about his “three periods” of his bow making but was hard-pressed to find much information beyond just vague descriptions and approximate dates for the changes that define them. In an effort to clarify the evolutions in his bows from these three periods, against the timeline of his professional life, I set out to speak to some of the world’s foremost specialists and read the reference books written on Sartory.
I was recently fortunate enough to discuss the subject with Pierre Guillaume, one of the worlds leading bow experts, while he was in Paris. His detailed knowledge of Sartory’s work is renowned and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with him. How does he define the three periods of Sartory’s work, I asked? His answer was more nuanced then expected: “One has to see Sartory’s periods in terms of the people who worked for him,” he remarked, implying that the evolutions in his work came not just from his own hand, but also from those in his atelier. We know that as Sartory’s reputation grew, he employed help to keep up with demand; he himself estimating that his bow production averaged “20 to 24 a week between 1906 and 1914” (1) – four to five bows a day! At that rate, it would seem impossible for Sartory to do much more than just the finishing touches. Bow makers Hermann Prell and Otto Hoyer were probably some of the Sartory’s earliest workers, preparing the sticks and frogs for him starting just before the turn of the century. Jules Fétique joined Sartory in 1902 and would continue working for him until 1934, and later with Louis Morizot and Louis Gillet amongst others.
Pierre Guillaume frames the initial period as “from the very first years when Sartory worked alone without any help preparing the bows,” meaning from his departure from Joeseph Alfred Lamy in 1889 to around 1895 or 1896. “It is important to note,” he continues, “that the changes in his work are not abrupt, but show progressive evolutions over several years”.
The first period, from 1889 to around 1895, is when Sartory progressively defines the forms and shapes of his bows. It begins when he leaves the workshop of Joseph Alfred Lamy père in 1889, to make bows for shops and luthiers in Paris and around France as was the custom for French bow makers at this time. He established his first workshop circa 1891 at 12 Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle in Paris. Although Sartory first apprenticed with Charles Peccatte in Paris, interestingly there is no trace of the Peccatte style in his work; instead the bows from these years show a strong influence from Lamy.
As seen in this very early bow from 1890, there is a strong influence of Joseph Alfred Lamy: the elegance of the head, a slight curve at the bottom of the chamfer, while the tip moves gracefully forward and up – forms typical of a Lamy head, which is strongly anchored in late 19th century Parisian style of organic forms. At the same time the shapes of this bow herald the modernity and the forms that would go on to define the style of Sartory’s bows. For Christoph Depierre, of Champarnaud & Depierre in Paris, this bow is a rare and remarkable example of the change between “Lamy’s more effeminate forms to the affirmation of strength that later typifies Sartory’s work”.
The incredibly consistent quality of Sartory’s work is remarkable during the second period, which represents over 30 years of production. Starting around 1895 , we see a clear progression in the form of the bows, which will define his style by around 1900. Jean-François Raffin, leading world expert and co-author of L’Archet, points out that during these years “the frogs lengthened slightly and the throats took on Sartory’s characteristic style in the form of an open U, the definitive form of the heads not being established until 1900-1905.”(2) His heads evolve progressively from a Joseph Alfred Lamy form to a style which is reminiscent of Joseph Arthur Vigneron (although there seems to have been no connection between the two). The heads finding their definitive Sartory shape by the turn of the century. The wood used in these early years is an intense dark Pernambuco of exceptional quality with a tight, dense grain. Starting as early as 1895 silver mounted frogs appear with Parisian eyes as opposed to his earlier frogs with a simple pearl eye or solid ebony frogs. The first gold-mounted tortoiseshell bows appear and a small copper tube is often inserted in the bow stick just after the mortise to protect the wood from end screw wear, one of his inventions that he called the “préservateur de l’archet” as was noted at the Paris Exposition of 1900(3).
The first years of the 20th century mark the beginning of decades of remarkable high-quality bow production for Sartory. In 1902 he moved his workshop to a third-floor apartment at 3 cité Trevis in Paris, the same year that Jules Fétique began working for him, producing up to 24 bows a week until the First World War broke out. Sartory served his military duty by manufacturing artillery shells in Bourges, from 1915 to 1918 (4) but was back in business soon after the war. At this time he notably employed Louis Morizot to help prepare bows, as it now seems the case for Louis Bazin. Jean-Pierre Raffin and Pierre Guillaume have both recently told me that they are certain Bazin worked for him during these years of the early 1920’s providing roughed out bows to be finished. The ultimate evolution in Sartory’s bow style began around 1934.
Keeping in mind Pierre Guillaume’s insights that the evolutions of Sartory’s work should take in account the people working for him, we know that Jules Fétique left in 1934 and was replaced by Louis Gillet to provided the pre-prepared Pernambuco sticks for Sartory. The bows begin to get thicker, both in the sticks and heads, the wood is lighter in color and octagonal sticks make up almost half of the production after 1930 (5). As with many bow makers, I think notably E.A. Ouchard, towards the end of their careers their bows typically take on a more massive aspect and loose some of their elegance. Could this be a shared stylistic choice or rather a result of weakened eyesight and diminished manual dexterity?
Remarkably, Eugène Sartory’s bows are extraordinarily consistent in their quality throughout his lifetime, from the very beginning to the last year of his life in 1946. His bows, in the hands of a violinist, are immediately recognizable by their precise response to the right hand movement perfect in their execution of the most demanding bow styles from a simple détaché to slurred staccato passages. Under the expert’s eye the beauty of the chamfer’s curve from stick to head is instantly identifiable as is the precision of the frog from the famous U-shaped throat to placement of the silver heel and pins.
With the increased demand early in his career Eugène Sartory began hiring some of the best bow makers in France to assist him in preparing the roughed-out sticks and frogs, the hands of these makers are reflected in the subtle evolutions of his bow production and for over fifty years he was able to maintain a large output of exceptional bows that are not only amazing in their high quality but also homogenous in representing his unique touch. Pierre Guillaume estimates that “over Sartory’s lifetime, taking in consideration what we know of his output both before and after WWI, he probably made some where around 16,000 bows”.
Reflecting on this, Francois Champarnaud, of Champarnaud & Depierre, draws a parallel to the output of the workshop of Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume. “Under the guidance of these masters, the production of instruments is extremely consistent both in craftsmanship, quality and sound throughout all the long years of production but, surprisingly in both cases, when a worker leaves the shop to establish his own business after years of working for the same master, the instruments never share those outstanding qualities nor resemble the hand of the master”. Jules Fétique worked most of his life for Sartory but the bows he signed do not share the same qualities as Sartory and as it is the case for Louis Morizot and Louis Gillet.
What are the secrets that made it possible for Sartory to produce so many high-quality bows throughout his life? How did he choose for over fifty years the wood for bows that are flawless in their playing qualities? What were his finishing touches? Many questions left unanswered, the mystery continues…
Signed bill from Eugène Sartory
Born the 22nd of September 1871
1887 (circa) Apprenticed in the shop of Charles Peccatte
1888 (circa) Moves to apprentice for Joseph Alfred Lamy
1889 Begins working on his own
1891 Installs workshop at 12 Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle, Paris
1894 Médaille Argent Lyon
1897 Médaille Argent Bruxelles
1900 Médaille Argent Paris
1902 Moves workshop to 3 Cité Trévise, Paris
1905 Grand Prix Liège
1906 Diplome d’honneur Milan
1907 Diplome d’honneur Bordeaux
1908 Diplome d’honneur Londres
1910-1913 Contract with Simson & Frey U.S.A.
1915-1918 Mobilized in Bourges
1921 Leaves for the USA on 24th of September
1924 Patent of name in Canada
1930 Chevalier de l'ordre de la Couronne by Queen Elisabeth of Belgium
1946 Dies on the 5th of March
(1) Gennady Filmonov, Sartory et les faussaires – Sartory and the case of spurious bows
Èditions de La Rue De Rome, 2021, Page 6
(2)(3)(5) Bernard Millant et Jean François Raffin, L’Archet
L’Archet Èditions, 68 rue de Rome , 2000, Page 106
(4) Philippe Dupuy, Eugène Sartory
Èditions de La Rue De Rome, Page 38
Français E. Vatelot, Les Archets
Éditions Sernor – M.Dufour
Honorary plaque erected by Champarnaud & Depierre at 3 cité Trévise, Paris
With Violin Insider, Ian McCamy shares his passion for the world of exceptional stringed instruments and fine French bows by exploring their craftsmanship and the unique stories that make up their singular history.
Since the age of three Ian knew he wanted to dedicate his life to the violin: he began playing at the Greenwich House Music School in New York City at the age of six and later studied at LaGuardia School of Arts. Following a career of performing around the world, he has turned his lifelong passion and knowledge of the violin to the study, expertise and restoration of fine stringed instruments and French bows.
Violin Insider shares his fascination for instruments of the string quartet and the extraordinary bows used to play them through a series of articles, documents and photographs.
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