This painting depicts Ignacy Paderewski, a world-renowned pianist and composer and the Prime Minister of Poland in 1919. It was painted in London in 1891, during the pianist’s first tour of England. One of Paderewski’s private concerts took place in the home of the Dutch painter Lawrence Alma-Tadema, who had settled permanently in England and enjoyed tremendous popularity in the Victorian and Edwardian periods. It was there that this exceptional portrait was painted.
The artist presents Paderewski against a backdrop composed of two colour fields, an orange-yellow Japanese textile and wood panelling of a uniform, dark-olive colour. Alma-Tadema was an expert on and collector of Japanese art. He was known to be enamoured with Japanese woodcuts already during his first visit to London in 1872, and twenty years later he became a member of the Japan Society, whose mandate was to promote Japanese art and culture. Coincidentally, the subject of the portrait also nurtured a fascination with Far Eastern culture. While on tour, Paderewski amassed a rich collection of Japanese and Chinese art, which he would later bequeath to the National Museum in Warsaw.
Inscribed in the upper right corner, next to the artist’s signature, we notice a designation associated with music – OP, along with the number 311 written in Roman numerals. This is explained by the fact that Alma-Tadema liked to number his works in the way that composers do.