Frederic Chopin – A Portrait by Eugene Delacroix

20 Sep

”Music is the moonlight in the gloomy night of life.” (Musik ist der Mondschein in der düsteren Nacht des Lebens.) – Jean Paul

1838. Chopin by Delacroix aFrederic Chopin by Eugene Delacroix, 1838

When Frederic Chopin first met the French Romantic novelist George Sand, he considered her ugly and unattractive; she was short, dressed as a man and smoke pipe, but two years later he fell in love with her despite her ‘repulsiveness’. Around that time, in 1838, Eugene Delacroix, a close friend of both Chopin and Mrs Sand, decided to paint a joint portrait of the two lovers. However, the portrait was never quite finished for it remained in Delacroix’s studio until his death, and cut into two separate works so we do not know exactly how it looked like, though there are some assumptions about the composition.

The more interesting part of the joint-portrait is, for me, definitely Chopin’s portrait painted by his dear friend Eugene Delacroix, there’s something very special about it. I see in this portrait everything that Chopin’s life and soul were filled with; a romantic longing, sadness and adoration, yearning for his fatherland, love towards everything that is ‘beautiful’ and noble, fragile health and a certain dose of bitterness, I see all of these things in the portrait of a young composer. After reading Chopin’s biography written by Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz, I, being already deeply fond of Chopin’s music, his beautiful and mystical Nocturnes, discovered a different side of Chopin. He is mostly remembered as a posh and elegant young man who wore a new pair of white gloves every day, drank champagne, and traveled in his own carriage through the streets of Balzac’s Paris, but Iwaszkiewicz’s biography reveals a gentler and deeper side of him; young Chopin who spent his days chatting with Polish friends, improvising on piano, cheerful and innocent days before his arrival in Paris. Chopin’s love towards Polish countryside is particularly fascinating to me. The secret of his music lies in his travels during which he discovered the mystique of Polish landscape and the secret of its melancholy, dreary mood of the fields he wondered through. After the Fall of Warsaw in 1831, Chopin’s soul closes and we see him very soon in Paris, an elegant dandy who seems to have forgotten everything about his early days in Poland and nostalgic mood that overcame him in Vienna. But the same passions and rebellion still lies in Chopin’s soul, the same longing to escape the banalities of everyday life. He still laments, suffers and grieves – but only on the piano. Maybe that’s the reason his despair and pain seem even larger. His sense of humor and wit concealed his hard feelings and thoughts that he expressed only musically.

Photograph of Frédéric Chopin, 1849

Compared to the only known photography of Chopin, taken the year he died, the painting seems richer and warmer, painted in soft brown shades by a composer’s dear friend Delacroix, the portrait shows a younger and stronger Chopin, though a bit wistful and moody. On the other hand, photograph of Chopin shows a thirty-nine year old artists already fading away, suffering from consumption, tired, weary and physically weak. His last concert was held in London, in honour of Polish immigrants. He played so softly and gently that his performance was completely overshadowed by the murmurs of the arriving guests and reporters. They barely noticed the great virtuous that was playing piano, the Chopin himself.

Chopin died on 17th October 1849, among people dear to him, not among strangers as he often feared. Mozart’s ‘Requiem’ played on his funeral which was attended by his friends and artists such as Delacroix, Theophile Gaultier, composers Pleyel and Franchomme and Alexander Czartoryski.

Sadness that he suppressed during his life was interwoven in all of his compositions; ecstatic and idyllic beauty, pathos, landscapes, strange night scenes, mystique, anger and despair, doubts and fear, gentle love songs, gallantry – all found their place in Chopin’s compositions.

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