Stradivarius breaks auction record

Violin thought to be owned by Napoleon sold

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A Stradivarius violin believed to have been owned by Napoleon Bonaparte has sold at auction for a world-record price. ‘The Molitor’, as the 1697 instrument is known, was bought for £2.26m ($3.6 m) in New York.

The buyer of the valuable Stradivarius was American violinist Anne Akiko Meyers. ‘It was love at first sound,’ she explains. ‘Its power, feel, and range of colour are extraordinary. I look forward to sharing this sound with the world.’

She’ll be the latest owner in a line that includes American violinist Elmar Oliveira, the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and its namesake Count Gabriel-Jean-Joseph Molitor, a general in Napoleon’s army. The violin's history is known from the turn of the 19th century onwards, when it was owned by French socialite Juliette Récamier. Violin historian Herbert Goodkind suggests that Napoleon was its first owner. While it's not known exactly why he drew this conclusion, Tarisio auction house, which handled the sale, believes Goodkind's claim is likely to be correct. 

Although this sale sets a new record at auction, the money involved in private violin purchases dwarfs this figure. In October 2009, a Guarneri violin sold for £7m, while another Guarneri del Gesu once owned by French composer Henri Vieuxtemps is expected to sell for £12m. The previous record at auction was held by the ‘Hammer’ Stradivarius, which sold for £2.24m ($3.54m) in 2006.

Rebecca Franks

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