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An Expert Repairer and Connoisseur
On February 10, 2020
by Will Robertson & Raph Hurwitz
Auguste Leon Delunet
London View this Item
William Ebsworth Hill, son of Henry Lockey, was in a large way responsible for the way in which we see and treat old instruments in the present day. In 1860, around two decades into him having established himself in London, the Cobden Chevalier Free-Trade Treaty was implemented, lifting import duties on musical instruments.
Quickly realising that it would be uneconomical for him to try to compete with the onslaught of cheaper instruments arriving from the continent, William focused his company’s efforts on learning how to best restore and repair instruments.

In the 1880s, the company (now W.E. Hill and Sons) was starting to reach international acclaim. His middle sons, Arthur and Alfred were beginning to take more of a substantial role in the running of things, and they’d just acquired a new premises in New Bond Street. William, thrilled by the way his sons were having such a positive effect on his business, spared "no time or money… on the boy’s education".

Since they were now in their late teens, and William was adamant that they receive the best training, Alfred and Walter (his two youngest) were sent abroad. They arrived in France and registered in Mirecourt as apprentices of Isidore Delunet. Delunet had a seemingly busy workshop, as he was also teaching Charles François Langonet, and his own son, Auguste Leon.

The five presumably got on well, as, on Alfred’s return to London, both Auguste Delunet and Langonet returned with him to work at the Hill workshop. For young Auguste, this turned out to be a particularly stable employment that would last him a little over three decades.

Very exalted reputation as restorer and leader of Hill’s workshops - J. Dilworth

Given the business focus of the Hills at the time, the majority of his work was in restoration. Both Henley and Dilworth comment on him as having an "exalted reputation as a restorer". His talent aided him, working his way up to eventually head the workshop. Undoubtedly, this left him with very little time to work on his own instruments, but he still persevered and achieved a small output.

It isn’t entirely clear what sparked the upheaval, but shortly after the end of the Great War, Auguste Delunet and his English wife, Henrietta, emigrated to Toronto, Canada. He is known to have worked in Canada for at least a short while for R.S. Williams, but from here the trail gets slightly confusing. He is documented as having formed a professional partnership in New York with Drouin (Drouin & Delunet), but also as having worked for the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, who amongst other things, imported German instruments for resale. In 1936, we pick up the trail again and find the Delunet family back in London. The family settled in the Norwood area, close to Crystal Palace, and it was here they stayed until Auguste’s death three years later.

The violin photographed was one of Delunet’s small output. Based on a Guarneri model, and varnished in a pleasing reddish-brown, it is our belief that it was made towards the end of his time at the Hill workshop. The scroll in particular is a little roughly cut, but the wood choice married to the pattern chosen, results in a rich, dark-sounding instrument with a lot of easily achievable power and contrast.