Famous French Bow Makers from the past

Known for their exceptional craftsmanship and attention to detail, French bow makers and their bows are considered the best in the world. Today, many musicians seek out bows made by French bow makers specifically for their superior quality.

Their contributions have helped shape the way we think about the violin and the role of the bow in creating beautiful, expressive music. French bow makers throughout history have left a lasting mark on the music world, with unique styles and techniques that set them apart from their contemporaries. As a result, many of their bows are still highly sought after by musicians and collectors today. Here’s a brief overview of famous French bow makers from the past.

History of French bow making in Mirecourt, France

The 18th and 19th centuries are considered the golden age of French bow making. During this period, many of the most famous and influential bow makers in history were active, producing some of the most sought-after bows in the world.

Mirecourt, France | Mathieu Kappler, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The small town of Mirecourt, situated in the Vosgian mountains of France, is the birthplace of the French bow making tradition. Early French bow makers realised that the Pernambuco wood, initially imported for textile dyeing, was ideal for crafting bows. As a result, most highly skilled bow makers who worked in 19th-century Paris hailed from Mirecourt and eventually migrated to the capital. From François Tourte, credited with perfecting the modern design of the bow that we use today and often referred to as the Stradivari of the bow, to Dominique Peccatte, known for his elegant and refined style, French bow makers have made a significant impact on the world of music.

Notable French bow makers and their families

The Tourte family, François Xavier Tourte

The Tourte family was one of France’s most prominent and influential families during this period. François Tourte revolutionised the art of bow making by introducing the concept of the concave bow. His nephew, Nicolas, continued the family tradition and is considered one of the greatest bow makers of all time.

François Xavier Tourte, who spent eight years as a watchmaker’s apprentice before becoming an apprentice to his luthier father, Nicolas Pierre Tourte, revolutionised bow making by introducing the concept of the concave bow. In collaboration with violin virtuoso G.B. Viotti, he significantly changed the bow’s form during the Classical period between 1785 and 1790.

François Xavier Tourte | J. Frey, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Tourte style

Tourte’s bows were typically made from Pernambuco wood, the preferred wood used in professional bows today. They were heavier than previous models, with more wood at the tip of the bow to balance out a heavier frog. They had a usable hair length of around 65 cm, and the balance point was 19 cm from the frog. These bows were elegantly fluted through half, or the whole length, and the curve in the wood was created by thoroughly heating and bending the wood rather than cutting it to the desired bend.

Tourte is also credited with inventing the spreader block, which flattens the hair of the bow into a ribbon and prevents tangling, as well as introducing the screw in the frog (or nut) to regulate hair tension. This screw is now commonly found on modern violin bows.

Tourte never varnished his bows, only rubbing them with pumice powder and oil. Dominique Peccatte, Jacob Eury, Nicolas Maire, François Lupot, Nicolas Maline, Joseph Henry, and Jean Pierre Marie Persois followed the Tourte pattern.

The Peccatte family, Dominique Peccatte

The Peccatte family was another notable family of French bow makers during this period. François Xavier Peccatte was renowned for his exceptional craftsmanship and meticulous attention to detail. Unfortunately, despite his promise and potential for greatness, he passed away at the young age of 34 before reaching the pinnacle of his craft. François was the brother of Dominique Peccatte and the father of Charles Peccatte.

Dominique Peccatte, who was apprenticed in Mirecourt and later worked with Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, is especially noteworthy for adapting the “hatchet-shaped” type head that Tourte pioneered. He is considered one of the most influential bow makers, and his nephew Charles Peccatte was also a remarkable bow maker in his own right. Peccatte’s two most well-known pupils were Joseph Henry and Pierre Simon, and he is also credited with having taught François Xavier Bazin.

The Sartory family, Eugène Nicolas Sartory

The Sartory family was another significant family of French bow makers from this era. Eugène Nicolas Sartory (1871, Mirecourt – 1946) first apprenticed with his father before working for Charles Peccatte and Joseph Alfred Lamy (père) in Paris. In 1889, he established his own shop, and his bows are marked “E.SARTORY A PARIS”.

Eugène Nicolas Sartory (1871–1946)
Eugène Nicolas Sartory

Sartory Style

Eugène Sartory was at the forefront of the trend toward heavy, robust bows, and his atelier adhered to a consistent style for decades. First, he fortified the Voirin model and produced sturdily built bows with strong shafts. Later, he innovated the design of his bows by widening the head, altering the shaft cross-section, and thickening the shaft above the handle to provide more stability and reliability in handling. In his early period, Sartory preferred dark Pernambuco wood, whereas the later bows were generally of a lighter colour.

Although Vigneron and Fetique produced bows that could rival Sartory’s strength and handling, the consistency of Sartory’s bows has made them a favourite among musicians, even if they lack some subtlety of older bows. In addition, Sartory bows are reliable playing tools that satisfy various players.

Bazin family

The Bazin family, renowned for their craftsmanship in bow making, were active in Mirecourt, France, from around 1840 until the majority of the 1900s. The lineage started with François Bazin and concluded with Charles Alfred Bazin (1907 – 1987). With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, large corporations like Jerome Thibouville-Lamy and Laberte-Magnie dominated the musical instruments industry until the 1960s.

François Xavier Bazin

François Xavier Bazin, born in Mirecourt in 1824 and passed away in 1865, was a renowned French and the first of the Bazin family to establish the dynasty. According to experts, he may have learned from Dominique Peccatte and possibly Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume in Paris before setting up his own shop in Mirecourt in the early 1840s. Sadly, he died of cholera at the age of 41. François Xavier Bazin. Charles Nicolas Bazin II, born in 1847 and passed away in 1915, was the son of François Xavier Bazin and learned bow making from his father. When his father died, Charles Nicolas Bazin II took over the family business at the age of 18, which was a significant responsibility. Two years later, he married his first cousin Jeanne-Emélie Bazin and together they had three sons: Emile-Joseph, Gustave, and Charles Louis.

Charles Nicolas Bazin II
Charles Nicolas Bazin II

Charles Nicolas Bazin II

Charles Nicolas Bazin II was a renowned craftsman who significantly impacted the production of bows that remain highly sought after to this day. He employed some of the most prominent bow makers in his Mirecourt workshop, which saw between 12 to 17 makers producing around 2,000 to 3,000 quality bows annually during the first six years of the 1900s. Among the makers were the Fetique Brothers, Claude Husson, Granier, Lorange, Tournier, Delprato, Ouchard, Jacquemin, Dumont, Couturieux, Richaume, Bourgeois, and Bontemps. Charles Nicolas dedicated 56 years of his life to the art of bow making before passing away on December 6, 1915.

The Bazin family’s bows are highly sought after by musicians and collectors alike for their balance, responsiveness, and tonal qualities.

French bow makers of the past have left an indelible mark on the world of music. Their bows have been the preferred choice of many of the most excellent musicians in history, and their legacy continues today. French bows have been used to create some of the most iconic performances in history, and they continue to inspire musicians.

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