Stradivari violin sells for $3.6m - beating auction record

Charlotte Smith19th Oct 2010
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A Stradivari violin known as the "Molitor", thought originally to belong to Napoleon Bonaparte, has sold on-line for a record $3.6 million. The previous world record for a musical instrument at auction was held by Christie’s, who sold the "Hammer" Stradivari at their New York saleroom for $3.54 million in 2006.

The violin was bought by concert violinist Anne Akiko Meyers.

“It was love at first sound,” says Meyers.  “Its power, feel and range of colour are extraordinary.”  

The “Molitor” Stradivari, made in 1697 at the very beginning of the maker’s celebrated “Golden” period, was on sale with American online musical instrument auctioneers Tarisio with an estimate of $2m to $3m.  It first appeared in Paris at the turn of the 19th Century in the hands of the socialite and famous arts patron Juliette Récamier.  From 1727 she owned another Stradivari and although it is not known how she came to have possession of the two instruments, the respected violin expert Herbert Goodkind, along with other references, names Napoleon as the first owner of both violins in his Violin Iconography of Antonio Stradivari.

In 1804, again under unclear circumstances, the violins passed to a young General in Napoleon’s army, Count Gabriel-Jean-Joseph Molitor.  Although a distinguished soldier under both Napoleon and the Bourbons, he was well known as a musician and after his death in 1849 the violin remained in his family for nearly 70 years.

During the First World War, the “Molitor” was sold in succession by the famous Parisian dealers Caressa & Français, and Charles Enel, in 1929 finding itself under the auspices of the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia for the purposes of being lent to promising students.  These included Jascha Brodsky and Ethel Stark, before it was sold to the London firm of William Hill in 1936.  The “Molitor” passed through the hands of two more owners before being bought by the American violinist Elmar Oliveira at Christie’s in 1989, who used it as his playing and recording instrument before buying the “Stretton” del Gesù violin in 1994.

Says Jason Price, director of Tarisio: “It’s a rare opportunity that a Strad comes for sale at auction. The "Molitor" happens to be the perfect convergence of historically important provenance, impeccable condition and first class sound.”

Caroline Gill

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