Universally recognised as the 20th century’s most important French bow maker, Eugène Nicolas Sartory began making bows in Paris in the late 19th century and continued until he died in 1946. In this article, we discuss his humble beginnings to the global reputation Sartory has today.
For over 100 years, fine bows crafted by renowned French bow maker Eugène Nicolas Sartory (1871-1946) have been among the most coveted instruments in modern instrument building. With aesthetically perfect and inherently balanced pieces, Eugène’s bows are a refined interpretation of models created by François Nicolas Voirin and Joseph Alfred Lamy père. Such bows have become iconic standards, inspired by the renowned François Xavier Tourte. Sartory was a gifted and highly ambitious man; however, like many others, to launch his career, he supplied the bows he made to dealers who then sold them under other names. There is so much to learn about Sartory that we wanted to share his life story and work in an article.
A brief history of Eugène Nicolas Sartory
From Mirecourt, France, Sartory was an influential French archetier/ bow maker. He first began his career as an apprentice to his father; they lived at 7 Rue du Breuil, Mirecourt. He probably started at the age of twelve or thirteen. Then he worked for Charles Peccatte and Joseph Alfred Lamy (père) in Paris before setting up his first Parisian workshop at 12 Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle in Montmartre at age 18. However, Sartory only began branding the bows he made with his stamp in 1891. As his business grew, he employed many notable bow makers, including Hermann Wilhelm Prell (1897-8), Jules Fétique (1902-34), Louis Morizot (père) (1914-1919), and Louis Gillet (1934-46).
Eugène Nicolas Sartory’s military service
His military record shows that his diminutive size resulted in his placement in the auxiliary service. His various addresses in 1914 indicate the disruption of war. He participated in the German campaign from 20th March – 17th September 1915, but by January 1918, he was deemed unfit for continued service due to pulmonary emphysema and ulceration of the leg. However, despite the disruptions of military service and the First World War, Sartory established what has come to be considered the most highly regarded bow-making workshop of the period.
Eugène Nicolas Sartory’s early style
During the early years, his style underwent its most significant variation as he moved away from the style of his teachers and began evolving his own. During Sartory’s early years, he explored a variety of styles in his work. These included Parisian eye proportions, pearl eye sizes, three-piece buttons and full metal caps, Vuillaume-style mountings, ivory/metal tips, and screws that were either threaded into the button or filed square. He also developed distinct head and frog models, which featured on unbranded bows made for different shops during his first two years in business.
Relationship to Vigneron
Sartory’s familial relationship with Vigneron – Sartory’s father’s brother being married to Vigneron’s sister – indicates a likely working relationship between the two. We believe that Sartory either worked directly for Vigneron, possibly supplying bows, or produced bows modelled after the master’s designs.
Eugène Nicolas Sartory bows
Bows crafted by Eugène Sartory are examples of consistent, heavy, and strong craftsmanship. These bows are marked with the initials “E. SARTORY A PARIS.”
Sartory improved upon the Voirin model of bows, constructing them to be more robust with a stronger shaft. He also widened the head, modified the cross-section, and thickened the shaft near the handle for better control. These changes provided more stability and reliability in handling. In addition, he typically used darker Pernambuco wood in his earlier designs, whereas later designs featured lighter colours.
As fame increased, Sartory started weaving luxurious materials into his designs to create ornate showpieces. During the 1920s, Ysaÿe was gifted some of Sartory’s most opulent bows, engraved with “Spécialement fait pour Mr Ysaÿe” and usually included gold decor and tortoiseshell frogs.
Eugène Nicolas Sartory awards
Throughout his lifetime, Sartory’s bows were honoured with several awards, such as Silver Medals in Bruxelles in 1887 and the Lyon International and Colonial Exhibition in 1894, as well as Diplômes d’Honneur from the Liège Universal and International Exposition in 1905, Milan Exposizione International del Sempione in 1906, and London Franco-British Exhibition in 1908.
Bows crafted by Vigneron and Fetique can rival the strength and ease of use of Sartory bows. However, Sartory bows are a firm fan favourite due to their consistency. Whether for the professional or amateur, these bows offer fantastic reliability that suits a broad range of players – despite lacking some of the subtlety of older bows. We hope this article has helped introduce you to the life and work of Eugène Nicolas Sartory. Let us know what you think in the comments.