In Search of the Image of Chopin's Music

An attempt to capture the expressive power of Chopin's music in a single portrait

By The Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Paweł Siechowicz

Double portrait II, preparatory sketch for the painting Szopen [Chopin] (1899) by Wojciech WeissThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Capturing Chopin's music

Wojciech Weiss was a Polish painter and synesthete who at the threshold of the 19th and 20th centuries attempted to capture the expressive power of Chopin's music in a single portrait of the composer. He wanted to find the right image for the expressive power of his music. The sketches reveal that his imagination  balanced on a thin border between representation and abstraction. 

Female presence

One of Weiss's ideas was to depict the composer together with a women. The female presence symbolized the muse who inspired artist's creation. 

Prelude in D flat major Op. 28 No. 15, beginning
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Evocative landscape

Other idea was to find an evocative landscape that resonates with the expression of Chopin's music. Here we can see oblique lines that represent a pouring rain. This is the image often linked to Chopin's Prelude in D flat major

Searching for the Form (1899) by Wojciech WeissThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

In search of the form

In Weiss's sketches expressive images emarged from the entanglement of wavy lines.

Here we can see Chopin's profile easily recognizable due to the characteristic shape of his nose. 

Above one can notice the silhuette of a pianist sitting at his instrument. 

Chopin I (1899) by Wojciech WeissThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

En face

Some of Weiss's sketches reveal the search for the facial expression that could tell the viewer about the inner life of the composer. 

Chopin III (1899) by Wojciech WeissThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

In this sketch the expressive lines hovering above Chopin's head can be read as the tangle of thoughts and emotions that the artist harnesses to create a work of art. 

Chopin IV (a, b, c) Chopin IV (a, b, c) (1899) by Wojciech WeissThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

In this image, Chopin's face is seen above the bowlike lines tracing the dynamic movement of pianist's hands on the keyboard.  

Chopin II (a, b) Chopin II (a, b) (1899) by Wojciech WeissThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Will you dare to look into the eyes of the composer rapt in the act of creation? 

Double portrait I, preparatory sketch for the painting Szopen [Chopin] (1899) by Wojciech WeissThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

The mysterious muse

Who is the women who accompanies Chopin in some of the sketches? 

Is this George Sand, the companion of the best years of Chopin's creative activity? 

Studies for the painting Szopen [Chopin] Studies for the painting Szopen [Chopin], recto (1899) by Wojciech WeissThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Is this a listener for whom he plays and creates? 

Or is she the music herself in which Chopin engages with all of his senses? 

Chopin IV (a, b, c) Chopin IV (a, b, c), verso (1899) by Wojciech WeissThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

The image of music

Some of the sketches reveal a close link between the expressive, wavy lines and the sounds of music.

Sonata in B flat minor Op. 35 III. Marche funebre, beginning
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Here we can see the mourning bells that emerge from the wavy lines hovering above musical notation. Are these the bells of Chopin's funeral march? 

Chopin's inspiration (1899) by Wojciech WeissThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Yet other sketch shows the notes  interwoven in the wavy lines surrounding the composer.  

Chopin - the genius, study for the painting Szopen [Chopin] (1899) by Wojciech WeissThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Synestethic experience

Weiss was a synesthete which means that he naturally associated sounds with colours. Here we can see that his choice of colours is dominated by blues and purples interspersed with contrasting yellows. 

Study for the painting Szopen (1899) by Wojciech WeissThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

This oil gives us the closest approximation of the colours that Weiss would use in the creation of his painting. 

Taking a closer look we can observe how the wavy lines are transformed by the use of colour. 

Reproduction of the lost painting Szopen [Chopin] (1899) by Wojciech WeissThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

The lost image

Weiss's Szopen [Chopin] today is known only from the archival photograph. We do not know its colours, but we know that they made a great impression on the critiques. 

Scherzo in B minor op. 20, beginning
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What colours would you choose based on your own experience of Chopin's music? 

Credits: Story

The story was created on the basis of an article by Maciej Janicki and catalogue notes by Renata Weiss published in: Maciej Janicki et al. (eds), Anxiety and Exploration. Polish and Norwegian Artists at the Points of Breakthrough, Warsaw 2016.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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