Biographical / Historical
Jacques Français was born in Paris, France on July 3, 1924 the son of Emile Français and Lucile Caressa. His ancestry can be traced to the French town Mirecourt in Lorraine, the traditional center of French violin production. Jacques's grandfather, Henri Français, was an official violin maker to the Paris Conservatory. His maternal grandfather, Albert Caressa, was a violin and cello dealer. The House of Caressa & Français was one of the world's renowned violin making and repair shops. They had acquired the former House of Gustave Bernardel in 1901 (the former House of Gand & Bernardel Freres in Paris founded by Nicolas Lupot in 1796). Henri sold his share in the business to Albert at the end of World War I. The House of Caressa was eventually taken over by Emile Français in 1938. The shop remained open during the German occupation of Paris in World War II and closed in 1981 after the death of Lucile Caressa Français. The Paris shop was patronized by some of the greatest names in music.
Jacques Français's early training was in the Paris shop, beginning work at the bench at age twelve. At age eighteen he was apprenticed to violin maker Victor Aubry in Normandy. He completed his apprenticeship with George Apparut in Mirecourt. He then worked in his father's shop on Rue de Madrid and in the shop of Fridolin Hamma in Stuttgart, Germany. He was sent to New York City in 1947 and worked under Simone Sacconi in the shop of Rembert Wurlitzer. After a year Jacques returned to Paris to work in his father's establishment. A year later, Jacques returned to the United States and opened his own shop in New York on 57th St. near Carnegie Hall. He pursued a career in the repair and sale of rare violins independent of his father. Over the course of its lifetime the shop became well-known and was patronized by many of the preeminent names in the concert world.
Many photographic images in the Français Archive originate with rare violin dealer Emil Herrmann. Herrmann maintained a shop at 148 W. 57th St., New York City and later at 161 W. 57th St., just opposite Carnegie Hall and even later at 130 W. 57th St. After Herrmann's retirement, Français acquired his extensive certificate and photographic archive. In 1964, renowned luthier Rene A. Morel joined the Français shop and became a close business and personal associate of Français. Morel and Français worked together for the next thirty years. In 1985, Emmanuel Gradoux-Matt was employed by Jacques Français. He became shop foreman in 1990. On February 1, 1994 Jacques Français, Rare Violins, Inc. ceased business at 250 W. 54th Street. Morel and Gradoux-Matt remained at that address and renamed the company René A. Morel Rare Violins, Inc. Jacques Français died in New York City on February 4, 2004. He left a widow, Beatrice Français, and one surviving daughter, Isabelle Français. His nephew, Gael Francais, a student of both Francais and Morel, continues the family luthier tradition.
References (Copies may be found in the Archives Center control file): Français, Gael. "The Français House of Violin Making: A Retrospective," Journal, Violin Society of America, Volume XIX, No. 3, 2005, pgs. 3-22.
Martin, Douglas. "Jacques Francais, 80, Dealer in String Instruments, Dies," The New York Times, Febuary 8, 2004.
Miller, Stephen. "Jacques, Francais, 80, Dealer in Rare Violins," The New York Sun, Weekend Edition, undated.