Fine, handsome, and rare baroque cello by John Barrett, London 1736
(c. 1680 – 1743)
One of the first generation of violin makers to settle in Piccadilly, becoming the most prestigious group of makers in London in a period lasting from roughly the 1720s to the 1760s, both in terms of their refinement of style and their location in the heart of the wealthy and growing West-End. Barrett may have been active in the late 1600s, for ‘A Double Bass with a Case for it made by Mr Barrett 16.’ is recorded in the inventory of instruments belonging to Handel’s patron, the Duke of Chandos in 1720. In 1713 he appeared in insurance records ‘next the Standard in Piccadilly’ and the earliest label in a violin by him gives his address as the ‘Harp and Crown on the north side of Coventry Street’. Some measure of his success as a violin maker and businessman is witnessed in his property purchases of three houses in Crown Court off Pall Mall in 1728 for £360. His workshop and its contents was insured for £400 in 1741.
No concrete evidence has been found for his activity in earlier life, and no indication of whom he trained with. No instruments have survived with labels prior to 1720 and from this point he was amongst the very first English makers to adopt a model heavily influenced by Stainer, but weakened by an over-attention to delicacy. His scrolls are very precisely cut following a Cremonese outline, differentiating his work from close contemporaries including Nathaniel Cross who is often difficult to tell apart. Another feature of Barrett’s work is the use of small locating pins inside the purfling. These are distinctly different from Cremonese pins, but seem to be functional rather than decorative. Both Peter Wamsley and Thomas Smith used the same technique, establishing a lineage beginning with Barrett. His instruments are covered with a transparent chippy varnish also used by Nathaniel Cross, and sometimes by a deep brown varnish. After 1730 he adopted a deeper reddish varnish and a slightly heavier style with more rounded soundholes. Genuine labels are sometimes found in cheaper work with inked purfling, which were probably sold but not made by him. Fine labelled examples are rare owing in part to their superficial resemblance to Roman and Florentine work. (Tarisio)
The back in two matching pieces of maple of light medium curl running horizontally across the back from the centre joint. The ribs of similar curl although somewhat more pronounced. The front in two matching pieces of spruce of medium grain. The varnish of a warm orange-amber brown colour on an amber ground.
Made by ** Barrett at y Harp x Crown in
Coventry Street near Pickadilly London 1736
Length of back 737mm
Width upper bout 344mm
Width middle bout 249mm
Width lower bout 420mm
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