Birth : 1842 in Reims (Marne) Death : 1920 in Toulon (Var)

Summary

Known as GUARINI

Biography

Career
MENNESSON came from a family of music merchants and piano makers in Reims. During his first forays into the professional world he carried on the family business, all the while cultivating a particular interest for instruments of the violin family. One can find his signature, as well as the details of repairs, noted inside several restored instruments.

According to William BRADBRIDGE, a violin maker and expert in Reims, MENNESSON personally crafted violins primarily during the early part of his career, in what was a relatively short period. What is certain is that he was closely linked to Mirecourt, a city that he regularly visited. It is there, BRADBRIDGE tells us, that he completed his apprenticeship and received the professional pseudonym GUARINI.

On this recollation, Mr. Roland TERRIER, violin maker and specialist in the history of violin making at Mirecourt, informs us that MENNESSON, in 1870, was implicated in the founding in Mirecourt of a production workshop under the "Saint Cécile" insignia.

 About 1875
Jean Joseph MARTIN had the idea of creating a "Worker-Union" with its headquarters on Rue du Baillage in Mirecourt. In the Raffin / Millant book "l'Archet" one can read "It was a kind of cooperative, bringing together several violin and bow making firms, where all the stringed instruments and accessories were offered for sale at the lowest price. He was the manager of this Union, which the MENNESSON firm was associated in the early year" (1)
 As director, JJ MARTIN formed a formidable team of craftsmen, including his brothers-in-law, Auguste and Louis Nicolas MOUGENOT, Gabriel VOIRIN, and
Georges DEROUX, the last of whom was supposedly responsible for introducing MENNESSON to violin making. This Union lasted until January 1880, date at which it was declared in « excusable bankruptcy". (2)

 After René VANNES,  MENNESSON it is thought to move his production workshop to Reims in 1880, followed by Georges DEROUX (3). This version is contested by Rolland TERRIER for whom all MENNESSON’s production was made in Mirecourt.

Workshop
Alongside his business a a music merchant, Emile MENNESSON founded a veritable production workshop in 1880, a venture for which he sollicited the collaboration of Georges DEROUX.
BRADBRIDGE informs us that in 1919 the Conservatory of Reims, destroyed during the 1914-1918 conflict, moved to rue Carnot. The Mennesson firm, which was also destroyed, moved to a temporary space in front of the new conservatory and continued only its commercial activity. The firm remained active until the 1930s.
HENLEY notes that Jean, Emile MENNESSON's son, succeeded his father in 1919.

Works

Generally speaking, two types of production by MENNESSON can be distinguished:
- A production of good quality, in MENNESSON's personal style, characterized by his typically deep carving of the scroll and FF holes, his crafting of the sides, and his red-pink or orange-pink varnish in a rich, transparent finish.
As far as we know E. MENNESSON used one piece backs for this production.
Regarding the way in which the head is carved, one can recognize the influence of the DERAZEY school, with the features exagerated, certainly transmited to MENNESSON through
Georges DEROUX, a former pupil of Honoré DERAZEY.

- A second category of instruments, closer to the work of major production workshops of Mirecourt in style, in which one finds certain traits typical of his high-end production though somewhat subdued. These instruments, covered in a vernish that differs from his other production, can vary widely from one instrument to the next.
To this day, and according to what we have come across, MENNESSON's production of instruments is limited to violins. The bows, generally marked J. GUARINI, are typical of the Mirecourt production of this era.

Production

The oldest instruments attributed to this maker date from 1874. New information from one of our U.S. correspondants provides precious information about the production of MENNESSON's Mirecourt workshop during its first years of development. This correspondant, in possession of a MENNESSON violin from 1874, informs us that his instrument bears the number 85. We can, therefore, deduce that the MENNESSON workshop produced around 20 instruments per year during this early period of activity.

Obviously, these quantities later increased as a study of the numbers appearing on the instruments' labels (if they are reliable) proves: for the two types of instruments combined, we can approximate an annual production 50 instruments with dates and numbers ranging from 1878 (N°1460) to 1903 (N°2692).

The most recent instrument we have come across is dated 1921, one year after the death of Emile MENNESSON.

Bows
The bows bearing the stamp GUARINI have been made by different makers. Among them one can find :
BARBÉ Auguste.

CUNIOT Eugène. (Known as CUNIOT-HURY)
MARTIN Jean-Joseph

Labels & Stamps

Emile MENNESSON's commercial practices, like those of many 19th century violin makers, were influenced by the great French master Jean Baptiste VUILLAUME. The numerotation of instruments, the establishment of separate high-end and student productions, and the assignment of named to different models (i.e. "Champenois", "Sainte Cécile") are all direct influences of VUILLAUME.
Where labels are concerned, one finds that MENNESSON's first class instruments bear both his name and his pseudonym, "Joseph GUARINI". William BRADBRIDGE notes that the order in which these two names appear can be inversed, which does not necessarily lead to further conclusions regarding the instruments's fabrication. The labels of student instruments can bear the labels "Sainte Cécile", "Modèle Champenois", and "GUARINI".

Honors & Awards

According the his labels, MENNESSON obtained two gold medals, though we do not know from which competitions. He also received the decoration of the Royal Order of Christ of Portugal.


Collaborators

Aside from Georges AUBRY, Georges DEROUX and Gabriel VOIRIN, Louis MARTIN, the son of
Jean Joseph MARTIN, collaborated to the production of MENNESSON's instruments.

Sources
1 - L'archet Bernard Millant et Jean-François Raffin
2 - L'archet Bernard Millant et Jean-François Raffin
3
- Dictionnaire Universel des Luthiers. René Vannes.

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