A peeling portrait of Frederic Chopin, bought at a flea market in Poland, hung modestly in a private home for nearly three decades before an expert dated the painting to the 1800s, when the Polish piano composer was still alive.
Now restored and in a gilded frame, the small painting sits in a bank vault somewhere in eastern Poland as the owners negotiate their next steps, including a public exhibition.
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News of the artwork’s existence broke this week when Warsaw hosted the 18th Frederic Chopin Piano Competition, an international event known for launching the careers of world-class pianists. The competition runs until October 23.
Professor Dariusz Markowski of Nicolaus Copernicus University, the art expert who examined and restored the portrait last year, says it has significant historical and emotional value, but he refrained from estimating what it could be sold for.
The painting measures 29.5 centimeters by 23.3 centimeters (11.5 inches by 9 inches). Using advanced methods, Markowski timed its creation to the mid-19th century based on the materials and pigments used, and the degree of aging and damage.
But it’s not possible now to pinpoint the exact year of provenance, and it will be difficult to identify who painted it, as only the artist’s first name, Alfred, has survived, he said.
“It’s obviously Chopin, but I can’t say whether he posed for this portrait or if it was painted from another photograph,” said Markowski, director of the Conservation and Restoration of Modern Art Department at Torun University.
“We don’t know anything about its history or who it was painted for,” he told The Associated Press. “It was in a very bad state and I’m very happy that this kind of artwork can be saved.”
Chopin was born in 1810 in a mansion in Zelazowa Wola, a village near Warsaw, to a Polish mother and a French father. He left Poland at the age of 19 to broaden his music education in Vienna and then in Paris, where he settled, composed, gave concerts and gave piano lessons.
He died in Paris on October 17, 1849 and is buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery, but his heart is preserved in the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw, where celebrations mark the anniversaries of his birth and death.
An art connoisseur saw the portrait that Markowski calls ‘a real curiosity’ in the early 1990s at a flea market near Lublin. Decades later, a financial situation prompted the family to seek a professional assessment, which led them to the college expert.
A family member says it’s “extraordinary” that the painting survived some 170 years of historical turmoil and ended up on a flea market. He says the family’s recent attention to the portrait led him to study Chopin’s life and music.
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