A fine violin by John “Jack” Lott (2), London circa 1850.
Labelled: “Joseph Guarnerius fecit / Cremone anno 1732”
Length of Back: 356mm
Upper Bouts: 165mm
Lower Bouts: 204mm
Stop length: 194mm
Jack Lott numbers amongst the greatest copyists of the nineteenth century. His legendary reputation in life was reported by Charles Reade in his biography “Jack of All Trades” – a theatre performer who soaped his bow to bluff his way through a musical career, he joined the circus to travel as far a field as New York and Geneva, where he accidentally shot Madam Djeck, an elephant under his care.
Lott’s work is forever variable. An Alessandro Gagliano viola that he transformed into a del Gesu on the instructions of J.B. Vuillaume provides clear evidence that he crossed the line between copyist and faker, producing instruments intended to deceive. In the twentieth century, a number of notable instruments, famously including a violin that belonged to Ida Haendel have been reassessed and up- or down-graded accordingly.
This violin shows Lott at his most deceptive. The back, ribs and scroll are a powerfully accurate essay as a copyist proving to be a compelling interpretation of del Gesu’s work from the 1732 period indicated by the fake label. The deep red varnish is applied thinly and sparingly in residual areas across the violin, suggesting that it was a very work example. Meanwhile a second set of pins in the back of the instrument implies an intermediate restoration giving credibility to its age and worn appearance. The front seems at odds with the rest of the instrument, with slightly flatter edgework, a lack of red pigments found in the varnish elswhere and instead a deep blackish-brown varnish dominating most of the instrument. The matching purfling, the exposure of the same golden-brown varnish beneath the top coat in the more worn areas of the violin and the fact that this one of a series of violins made by Lott in this manner all prove that the violin belongs together as one. However the superficial appearance of the instrument is of one with a different table. Lott was accustomed to producing composites, finding a rich market for this kind of work, as typified by a Lorenzini of Piacenza transformed into a del Gesu that was exhibited in the 1998 British Violin Exhibition. The present violin appears however to have been a double bluff. By drawing the eye to the obvious inconsistencies, it was possible to fool a nineteenth-century expert to believing they had the better part of a del Gesu. With modern knowledge Lott’s work becomes distinctive and is praised for his extraordinary understanding of Cremonese form, but it was at one point a remarkable and particularly devious fake.