Gustave Bernardel (1832-1904) established the firm of Gand & Bernardel in 1866, but from 1892 he worked alone under his own name until his retirement in 1901, when his workshop passed to Caressa & Francais. He is a central figure in French lutherie in the 19th century, maintaining the highest standards of craftsmanship. Instruments carrying the Gustave Bernardel label are therefore all dated between 1892 and 1901.
This viola is a superb example from this period, and it represents something of a high point for the super-precise Parisian style – razor sharp edges, an impossibly perfect scroll with faultless inking, long elegant corners and a dream of a button. It came from an important collection and the condition is near-perfect, with no cracks or repairs and very little damage to the original varnish.
This is a proper viola, quite large for a French instrument but very comfortable. It has a big smooth sound with lots of sustain and an easy, lively response. Overall the sound is surprisingly crisp and solistic for its size, but there’s plenty of beef in the bottom end. I’ve often found Parisian violins to be rather heavily built and consequently a bit harsh-sounding, but I can’t fault this viola. It’s a great all-rounder – it would sit beautifully in a section and blend with ease, but it also has enough under the bonnet to handle solo work.
Length of back 41.3cm, vibrating string length 36.4cm
Click or tap an image to enlarge it. Click or tap again to supersize.