The Top Ten Most Expensive Violins in the World
These violins were created by some of the most famous violinmakers, such as Antonio Stradivari and Guarneri ‘del Gesù’, have passed through the hands of Paganini, Yehudi Menuhin and Itzhak Perlman and cost, at the lowest estimate, well over one million dollars.
Some may argue that certain modern instruments outperform them, yet these exceptional violins by makers such as Antonio Stradivari and Gieuseppe Antonio Guarneri (known as Guarnerius del Gesù, ‘of Jesus’) continue to inspire. Whether due to their exceptional sound, the violinists who have played them or because of a fascinating backstory, such as the violin from the Titanic or the ‘Gibson’ Stradivarius, which was missing for almost 50 years. Their appearance in public auctions often makes the headlines, whilst at private they are rumoured to reach astronomic sums.
10. The ‘Dorothy Delay’ Gaudagnini – 1 million euro
Created by the Italian luthier Giovanni Battista Guadagnini (1711-1786), in 1778, the violin takes its name from its owner Dorothy Delay a great American violinist and teacher. She acted as assistant to Ivan Galamain at the Julliard School of Music, where Itzhak Perlman was studying at the time. She also taught violin to Albert Stern, Nigel Kennedy, Jean-François Rivest and Gil Shaham, before starting her own school.
It was auctioned for nearly a million euros at Tarisio in 2013, the highest officially recorded sum for a Guadagnini.
9. The 1727 ‘Kreutzer’ Stradivarius – 1,5 million euro
The violin is named after one of its owners, the French violinist Rodolpe Kreutzer (Beethoven dedicated his 9th sonata for violin to him). The Kreutzer was designed in 1727 by Antonio Stradivari, it then passed through the hands of luthier Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, a Grand Duke of Russia and the US Senator William Andrews – all great collectors of instruments (Clark owned no less than seven Stradivarius violins, including a 1731 Kreutzer valued in 2014 at 7.5 million dollars). It ended up in the hands of violinist Maxim Vengerov who acquired it in 1998 for $1.5 million dollars.
8. The ‘Red’ or ‘Mendelssohn’ Stradivarius – 1.7 million dollars
Its sale in 1990 for £902,000 was record breaking. Created in 1720, it was called ‘The Red Violin’ because of its vivid red hue. After being played, for a time, by Joseph Joachim it then seems to have disappeared for nearly 200 years before resurfacing in Berlin in the 1930s with Lili von Mendelssohn (a descendant of Felix Mendelssohn).
The heir of a wealthy American industrial family, the Pitcairns, acquired it in 1990. The violin was entrusted to his then only 16-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth Pitcairn. The violin’s history and captivating colouring were the subject of a 1999 film The Red Violin, directed by François Girard.
7. The ‘Lady Tennant-Lafont’ Stradivarius – 1.5 million euro
Made in 1699 by Antonio Stradivari, the ‘Lady Tennant-Lafont’ first belonged to violinist Charles Philippe Lafont, a pupil of Rodolphe Kreutzer and a contemporary of Niccolo Paganini; they faced each other in a contest at La Scala in 1816 of which there was no winner. It was bought by a wealthy Scottish businessman, Sir Charles Tennant, in 1990, he gave it to his wife Marguerite, an amateur violinist.
In 2005 it was auctioned at Christie’s and bought by the Stradivari Society of Chicago for just over 1.5 million euros. They entrusted it to Chinese violinist Liu Yang, in 2007, and the Belgian soloist Yossif Ivanov, in 2009. 6. Le « Folinari » Guarnerius Del Gesu – 1,8 million d’euros
6. The ‘Folinari’ Guarnerius Del Gesu – 1.8 million euro
This is one of the only violins mase by Giuseppe Antonio Guarneri (1688-1744), known as Guarnerius de Gesu (of Jesus). It was made in Cremona in around 1725. In 2012 it was sold at auction to an anonymous buyer for approximately 1.8 million euros. Its price was justified by its rarity; it was only the second violin but the Italian maker to be auctioned in 10 years. Its history remains mysterious, it was discovered in Italy in the 1990s.
5. The ‘Baron von der Leyen’ Stradivarius – 2 million euro
Antoni Stradivari’s masterpiece the ‘Baron von der Leyen’ dates from 1705, the ‘Golden Age’ of the Italian luthier. It takes its name from an early owner Baron Friedrich Heinrich von Freidrich von der Leyen (1769-1825), a rich German textile merchant who appears to have had a keen interest in instruments. He also owned two other Stradivarius violins. The Norwegian philanthropist Anton Fredrik Klaveness later owned the violin. It was most recently bought by an anonymous buyer for nearly 2 million euros at 2012 Tarisio auction.
4. The ‘Solomon, ex-Lambert’ Stradivarius - 2 million euro
The sale of this ‘late’, 1729 Stradivarius at Christie’s for more than 2 million euros to an anonymous buyer caused a stir in 2007. The violin does not date from the famous maker’s ‘Golden Age’ but rather from his later ‘Mature’ period.
The violin gets its name from two of its owners, the British violinist Dorothy Mary Murray Lambert a pupil of Carl Flesch and Leopold Auer, who had a career as a soloist in the 1920s and ‘30s, and the American entrepreneur and co-founder of Vanguard Records, Seymour Solomon.
3. The ‘Hammer’ Stradivarius – 2.5 million euro
The cost of a Stradivarius has soared in recent years. The ‘Hammer’ was valued at between $1.5 million and $2.5 million by Christie’s before being auctioned on May 16, 2016. It was ultimately bought by an anonymous bidder for a record-breaking $3.54 million. It was previously owned by the Nippon Music Foundation, who loaned it to violinist Kyoko Takezawa.
The violin was designed in 1709, in Antonio Stradivari’s ‘Golden Age’; it is named after the Swedish collector Christian Hammer.
2. The ‘Molitor’ Stradivarius – 2.5 million euro
A persistent rumour named Napoleon Bonaparte as one of the owners of this 1697 Stradivarius. This is not far from the truth, it belonged to Juliette Récamier a socialite and prominent figure of the First Empire; she was immortalised in a number of paintings, most famously by Jacques-Louis David. In 1804 the violin was passed on to Gabriel Molitor, a general of the Empire, for unknown reason. He was also a musician and the Stradivarius remained in his family until the First World War.
The ‘Molitor’ changed hands frequently throughout the twentieth century. In 1989 it was in the possession of American violinist Elmar Oliveira. Five years later, she exchanged it for Albert Stern’s ‘Lady Stretton’ Guarneri de Gesu. Stern kept the ‘Molitor’ until 2010 when he auctioned the precious instrument at Tarisio. Violinist Anne Akiko Mayers purchased it for 3.6 million dollars (a record). She is used to playing exceptional instruments, she also plays the ‘Royal Spanish’ Stradivarius, and the ‘Vieuxtemps’ Guarneri de Gesu, which cost somewhere in the region of $16 million in 2012. The buyer of the ‘Vieuxtemps’, who remains anonymous, has given Mayers use of the violin for life
1. The ‘Lady Blunt’ Stradivarius – 11 million euro
This record-breaking violin was sold for £84,000 at Sotheby’s in 1971, with the auction house calling on Yehudi Menuhin to demonstrate the quality of the violin. 40 years later, in 2011, the violin was once again put up for auction, by Tarisio, this time to help raise funds for two organisations involved in providing relief to victims of the natural disasters in Japan. It exceeded the record set by the ‘Molitor’ reaching 9.8 million pounds, more than 11 million euro.
The reason for this ridiculous price? Firstly, the exceptional condition of the instrument; made in 1721 by Antonio Stradivari, during his ‘Gold Age’, ‘The Lady Blunt’ has passed from collector to collector ensuring that it has remained in almost original condition. It has hardly been played and so was not subject to the alterations seen in most 18th century violins. From the hands of French luthier Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume it passed to Lady Anne Blunt, in the mid-19th century. It is she, daughter of Ada Lovelace and granddaughter of Lord Byron, who gives the precious violin its nickname.