Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chanot-Chardon: The Violin-Making Soap Opera Family

Written by Stefan Aune of Fein Violins

The Chanot-Chardon family of French and English violin makers trace their origins to Joseph Chanot, the first member of the family to add violin-maker as a profession. Joseph ran a small shop in Mirecourt, France, and the first violins that feature his label were produced in 1790. Joseph was a violin-maker, tradesman, and a farmer; a triple threat of vocations made necessary by his twelve children (that's quite a few mouths to feed). Two of Joseph's sons would follow in their father's footsteps and establish the Chanot name among the elite of French violin makers. The eldest, Francois, studied mathematics in Paris, graduating from the Ecole Polytechnique. He went on to specialize in the construction of naval war-ships, before taking an interest in violin making, albeit from a very scientific point of view. His thesis, titled (translated from French) "To Fix the Method a Violin Maker Must Use in the Workmanship of Stringed and Bowed Instruments" was accepted by a committee of experts and professional Alexandre Boucher played on the instrument built to Francois' specifications. Francois would go on to present a second thesis on instrument construction, and had the opportunity to present his research to the King of France during an exhibition. His forms were eventually taken up by the violin firm "Lete's Widow & Payonne," where they were used by the a young Jean Baptiste Vuillaume, who would go on to become an internationally renowned violin maker and a close friend of the Chanot family.

The Chanot shop in Paris
Picture from Parisian Violin Makers in the XIXth and XXth Centuries, Tome 1: The Family Chanot-Chardon by Sylvette Milliot
The youngest son, Georges, apprenticed with his father before joining Francois in the capital. He worked for a succession of Parisian makers before opening his own shop, founded in 1821. Georges was joined by his pupil Florentine Demolliens,  a 24 year old woman whose position as a violin maker caused a bit of a sensation, as women traditionally did not make violins at that point in history. Georges and Florentine eventually married, after having several children out of wed-lock, and the children were all legitimized together through baptism after the marriage. Wishing to get his name out there, Georges spent seven years traveling to Spain, Portugal, Germany, and England, and Russia, where he cultivated relationships with other makers and gained many international clients. His most notable customer was Tarisio, to whom he sold several highly skilled copies of Stradivarius and Guarnerius violins. In 1840, his wife and business partner Flornetine became ill, retiring to the countryside where she was cared for by her maid, Rose Chardon. Roses' sister, Antoineette Chardon, traveled to Paris to help Georges with the business. Their working relationship blossomed into some thing more, and Georges and Antoinette would eventually have a son together, Marie-Joseph Chardon. In the baptism act, Georges was named the godfather, and it wasn't until adulthood that Joseph learned that Georges was in fact his father. He would carry the family name Chardon, and pass it on to his children.

Georges Chanot
Picture from Parisian Violin Makers in the XIXth and XXth Centuries, Tome 1: The Family Chanot-Chardon by Sylvette Milliot
Georges reputation amongst Parisian makers as well as internationally increased over the years. He secured for his eldest son with Antoinette, Adolphe, an apprenticeship with the English dealers Hart & Turner. Adolphe proved a very skilled and serious violin maker, working hard and earning Turner's respect. His younger brother, Georges II, was the exact opposite. He opposed his father's plan for him to also be a violin maker, taking money from his father and leaving home. He returned a week later like the biblical prodigal son, broke and embarrassed. Back home, he decided to specialize as a bow maker, but his father had a low opinion of his abilities and pushed him to handle the business-side of violin making. Georges II headed to London as a dealer, where he quickly turned a profit on his father's instruments but lapsed back into his lascivious habits, spending money and pursuing women. He eventually set up a business in London with his father's blessing. Around this time, Adolphe died of tuberculosis, leaving Georges without any natural-born heirs in Paris to run his shop. At this point the family splits, with the Chanot name continuing on with the English branch of the family, and the Chardon name carrying on through the Parisian branch.

In 1868 Georges Chanot retired, leaving the shop in the hands of his illegitimate son Joseph Chardon, the child of Antoinette (who Georges finally married after years of companionship when his first wife, Florentine, died). From this point on, the shop is known as Chanot-Chardon, with Joseph running things alongside his wife Genevieve. Georges remains retired in the countryside for some time, but eventually grows bored and returns to violin making. In a letter to his son, he wrote that "I intend to handle the gouge, the pen knife and the plane as long as Stradivarius did." Georges would continue to be active in the business until his death in 1883, ending his life as one of the worlds most respected violin-makers.

3 Generations of Chanot-Chardon Makers: Joseph, Georges, & Andre
Picture from Parisian Violin Makers in the XIXth and XXth Centuries, Tome 1: The Family Chanot-Chardon by Sylvette Milliot
Meanwhile, the London branch of the family evolves to include Georges II and his sons Georges-Adolphe and Frederick. In 1881, Georges II makes the headlines when his sale of a Carlo Bergonzi violin is contested by the buyer, who disputes the authenticity of the instrument. The dispute went to trial, and became known as "the great fiddle case" in the newspapers. W.E. Hill testified that the violin was in fact not a Bergonzi, and during the trial Georges II admitted that he bought the violin in Paris and inserted the label Carlo Bergonzi Cremonae fecit anno 1742 himself. Georges II went on to testify that this was a regular practice among his other colleagues in the violin making business, and his attitude regarding violin-making ethics made an understandably poor impression on the court. This famous court case failed to derails Georges' London business, although it opened the flood-gates for many more trials and controversies regarding fraud and the authenticity of violins. Despite the incident, Georges II remained a respected maker until his death.

Back in France, the family shop continues to be run by Joseph Chardon and his son Georges, under the name Chardon & Son. They are quite successful, although the first Worlds War is a difficult time for the family. The business grows again in the post-war period, although the Chardons are involved in another authenticity dispute, this time over a Stradivarius they sold for collector Dinu Lipatti to buyer Albert Vidoudez. Vidoudez had Alfred Hill of W.E. Hill & Sons examine the instrument, who considered it to be an instrument made by Stradivarius' son Omobono. Chardon contested Hill's assertions, inviting him to visit his shop in Paris to debate the issue, but Hill declined. The violin is eventually sold as an Omobono Stradivarius, and Lipatti sums up the affair by stating in a letter that "I am deeply convinced that experts' appraisals are a very personal matter!"

A lovely violin by Georges Chanot, 1844
The Chardon shop in Paris flourished during the twentieth century, although the second World War put a temporary dent in business. Georges would eventually pass the shop on to his son Andre (notorious for marrying his own Godmother) and his daughter Josephine. Andre died in 1963, but Josephine continued to run the shop until her death in 1981, ending many generations of Chanot and Chardon violin makers. Their family history may read like a soap opera, but they produced many high quality instruments that are still prized by collectors and players today. We had the privilege of working with a Georges Chanot violin here in the shop, and it was a beautiful looking and beautiful sounding instrument.

There is a beautiful A.E. Chanot violin , made in London in 1935, pictured in the fine book "The Cooper Collection". Beautiful photographs!

John Henry Kruer playing an 1837 Chanot violin  owned by the Amati Foundation

This blog was written with the help of three excellent books: 

Universal Dictionary of Violin & Bow Makers by William Henley, published by Amati Publishing Ltd.

von Lutgendorff Die Geigen-und Lautenmacher by Willibald Leo Freiherrn Von Lutgendorff - published by Frankfurt A.M. Verlag Von Heinrich Keller

Parisian Violin Makers in the XIXth and XXth Centuries, Tome 1: The Family Chanot-Chardon by Sylvette Milliot, published by Les Amis de la Musique, 1994

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  1. Very interesting....These are my ancestors!

    Kevin Chanot.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to write all this up. I've been playing on a J.A. (Joseph Anthony) Chanot violin (1890) for several decades in my professional life, and it's been tough to find much of anything about him. I have the Universal Dictionary, and there's an entry about him in there, but the other problem is that books about violins often cost as much as some violins do... Is "The Family Chanot-Chardon" a prohibitively expensive and hard-to-find volume?

    Is the Joseph Chardon you mention in this posting possibly the same Joseph who made my violin? It looks like his dates would be about right, but the label inside definitely says J.A. Chaont (and it has been authenticated). If it is the same Joseph, then it was definitely more than a little exciting to finally see a picture of the man who made this violin!

    1. Kevin Chanot9/14/2012 7:49 AM

      No,Joseph Anthony Chanot was a son of George Chanot of London
      He died in 1936.Joseph Chardon was French,and worked in Paris.

  3. Great article. I have an 1872 Joseph Chardon which has a beautiful mellow tone. It is one of my favorites.

  4. Yes interesting. I'm related to the (according to this) infamous George 2. First I've heard of this story.

  5. Great article. I had the privilege of having Edward Heron-Allen's personal Guarneri Model (No. 2, Ex-Sainton) restored by luthier Andrew Dipper. Heron-Allen made this violin in George Chanot's shop in London, 1883 and remained his personal violin until 1943. Lost for over 50 years, it turned up in Dover in an antique furniture shop as a "wall hanger". Briefly featured in Strad magazine in 2003, the violin underwent a 18 month restoration, The restored instrument was played at the Heron-Allen Society Symposium at the Royal College of Music in London in 2011.

  6. Very interesting article, I have a lovely A E Chanot Viola which he has annotated the label to indicate he made it for his brother in 1914 - even has his original bridge! Also have a very fine Georges Chanot with a Hill certificate, what a great family of makers?