Music Notes

Rare Chopin portrait found at antiques market could be worth millions

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A damaged painting bought at an antiques market for a few zlotys has turned out to be an extremely rare portrait of Fryderyk Chopin, potentially worth millions. The small oil on canvas is only one of a few that is known to be painted during Chopin’s lifetime.

The current owner, a 30-year-old man named Maciej, bought it from his uncle who himself bought it 28 years ago at an antiques market in a small town near Lublin in eastern Poland. When the uncle fell on hard times, Maciej bought it from him. He then gave it to an expert for valuation.

When he heard by phone during a car journey what he actually had, the news was so astonishing that he crashed his car into a ditch.

Professor Dariusz Markowski, the art conservation specialist who first saw the work, said: ‘This painting has been through a lot, that was my first thought. In fact, it came into my hands in a terrible condition. It must have been kept in bad conditions, probably it had been soaked in water.’

An analysis of the paint pigments dated the work to the 1840s, a few years before Chopin died in 1849. Markowski said: ‘The painting is an original work created in the 1840s and is one of the few portraits of Fryderyk Chopin made during his lifetime.’

Journalist Joanna Lamparska, who reported on the discovery on Onet said: ‘The portrait had previously been cut from its frames, which may suggest that it was hidden, possibly stolen and that its fate was dramatic.’

The history of the painting is not known, nor how it found its way to the antique market in a town near Lublin. The artist who painted it is also not known. The canvas is simply signed Alfred followed by the word Pinxit, Latin for ‘painted by’.

Nonetheless, the painting will be of huge interest to Chopin scholars as it shows the pianist in an un-glamourised form without embellishment.

Professor Markowski said: ‘The few portraits of Chopin are generally idealised, whereas this portrait shows a thin, sickly man. The composer is not ‘beautiful’ here, he is shown in a naturalistic way.

‘In view of the fact that there are very few portraits of Chopin painted during his lifetime, the painting has great historical significance and hence its material value may be high.’

The painting has now been restored with professor Dariusz Markowski, the art conservation specialist who first saw the work, saying: ‘In view of the fact that there are very few portraits of Chopin painted during his lifetime, the painting has great historical significance and hence its material value may be high.’

He pointed to an unsigned portrait of Mozart that went up for auction in Paris in 2018, which, despite its guide price of EUR 800,000 to EUR 1.2 million, eventually fetched EUR 4.4 million. The discovery was made a couple of years ago but was kept secret while being restored.

The painting has now been taken out of its vault to be viewed by Bożena Schmid-Adamczyk, curator of the Fryderyk Chopin and George Sand Museum on Majorca, who is in Warsaw for the International Chopin Competition taking place in Warsaw this month.

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