Man of Different Shades

Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860–1941) is one of the most extraordinary figures of Polish history from the turn of the 20th century. He was both a great pianist and composer and a politician, diplomat and statesman. But above all, he was a great patriot.

Paderewski’s unique personality, amazing erudition and oratorical gift gained him many friends and admirers. He became famous for his musical virtuosity, which opened doors to the most important private salons of the day.

In the company of diplomats, aristocrats and representatives of the intellectual elite, he kept raising and promoting the question of Polish independence. Thanks to his highly developed network of contacts, Paderewski managed to gather an abundant circle of international advocates for the Polish cause.

Through the collection of the National Museum in Warsaw we are able to discover various aspects of the virtuoso, both the well-known – of a celebrated musician, statesman and friend of the greats of the era...

... and the lesser known – of a man on the road, travelling all over the world during his long and exhausting concert tours. A man devoted to his family and a collector of Far Eastern art.

Paderewski was one of the most famous musicians living at the turn of the 20th century. His great talent and charismatic stage presence led to international success, admiration and the love of his listeners.

Already as a child, Paderewski exhibited an exceptional talent for music. “When I was three years old, I demonstrated a certain propensity for music. The piano called out to me.”

Many leading musicians played on Steinway pianos, in public performances and at home. The company not only supplied such musicians with instruments, but also organized special concert tours, thus generating recognition for their brand. It proved to be a winning formula. The Steinway stable of artists included Anton Rubinstein, George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Sergei Rachmaninoff, as well as Ignacy Jan Paderewski.

Over the course of his long music career, Paderewski played hundreds of concerts across five continents, in many of the world’s largest performance venues. This photo shows Paderewski aged seventy-three during a performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Audiences loved his charismatic playing style and personal manner, and he achieved a level of fame comparable to that of today’s pop stars.

For most of his life, the artist travelled extensively, playing concerts on the grandest stages in Europe and the world, as well as in private salons.  Paderewski completed 20 concert tours of the United States alone, going from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific. Life on the road was not without its inconveniences, but the Paderewskis found a way to feel as at home as possible – in 1900, they bought a railway carriage in which they travelled all around the United States. Inside the carriage was a sitting room, of course with a piano, and a bedroom.

Finding its way into the Museum’s collection was a group of photographs, including pictures from Paderewskis travels, often of a documentary nature, like, for instance, several from a trip to the Whakarewarewa Maori village (Rotorua, New Zealand), in which we see the smiling and relaxed couple wearing the villagers’ traditional fur cloak costume.

The route of the Paderewskis' voyages can be witnessed through the stickers on their travelling trunk.

Of the interesting souvenirs the Paderewskis brought back from their extensive travels, what stands out is a collection of spoons decorated with city coats of arms, resort panoramas and scenes of tourist attractions. The most striking ones were acquired during the Paderewskis’ journeys to the USA, Australia and Canada. They provide us with interesting information about the history and architecture of the relevant cities and countries.

Interestingly, the spoon bearing the inscription “Detroit” was made in the famous Parisian goldsmith’s workshop of Henri Soufflot. It was common practice to have luxurious souvenirs manufactured by foreign companies specializing in the given craft. The stem of the Sydney spoon is decorated with the state emblem, while the broad bowl features a sketch of the New South Wales city hall, erected in the 1880s in late Victorian style.

The next spoon along, in a form typical of such American products, is decorated with the massive building of a hydrotherapeutic facility in the seaside spa town of Helena, Montana, erected in 1889, when thermal springs were very popular in the USA. The Toronto spoon is decorated with a glazed emblem showing the iconic maple leaf. On the bowl is a neo-Gothic building designed by famous architect E.J. Lennox – the largest city hall in North America at the time.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski was immensely popular – not only among the elite circles of artists and diplomats. First and foremost, he was very popular among the wider audience, most notably women.

Among the admirers of his talent and personal charm were many luminaries of the art world, aristocracy, politics and finance. One admirer of the Maestro’s talent was the British Queen Victoria.

One of the most famous of Paderewski’s acquaintances was Jackie Coogan, a Hollywood child star who rose to great popularity after appearing alongside Charlie Chaplin in the title role of the silent film "The Kid".

This photograph was taken in the summer of 1921, during a picnic hosted by Ignacy and Helena Paderewski at the couple’s ranch in Paso Robles, California. The boy joined in a campaign organized by the Paderewskis to benefit Polish child victims of the First World War. To help Polish war orphans, he pledged to donate the proceeds from the sale of signed photographs.

Great artists of the day offered and dedicated their works to Paderewski. In 1930, artists associated with the Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts [Zachęta] presented Paderewski with a collection of their drawings and prints.

One of the works in the Zachęta Portfolio, which directly references the recipient, is a watercolour by Feliks Szewczyk showing a carriage transporting the Head of State Józef Piłsudski, and Prime Minister Ignacy Jan Paderewski surrounded by an honorary squadron of the First Chevau-Légers Regiment at Castle Square.

Among the gifts given to Paderewski, we find a present offered to him by the piano company Steinway & Sons – a vase produced by Tiffany & Co., one of America’s biggest jewellers.

Among the numerous properties owned by Paderewski, the Riond-Bosson villa, near the town of Morges on Lake Geneva, held a special place in the artist’s heart. There – abroad – Paderewski and his wife Helena created a veritable home.

The interiors were filled with the master’s many awards – wreathes, diplomas and trophies – as well as with portraits of the family members.

The walls of Riond-Bosson were decorated with portraits of the Paderewskis, painted by the Swiss painter Charles Giron.

Helena, née Rosen, was Ignacy Jan Paderewski’s second wife, with whom he spent almost forty years. Helena Paderewska supported the musical and political career of her husband, as well as his efforts to promote the cause of Polish independence.

The Riond Bosson estate housed a large farm of pure-breed hens established by Helena Paderewska, who was a member of the poultry breeders’ association in Switzerland, France, Belgium and England, whilst in her spare time, indulging in her passion for rearing pure breed poultry.

The only part remaining today from Paderewski Riond-Bosson Estate is the round building, a part of Helena Paderewska's Hen Farm.

Villa Belonging to Ignacy Jan Paderewski in Riond-Bosson, Switzerland
Paderewski, like many of his contemporaries, was caught up in the craze for all things Oriental, and he dedicated himself to it passionately. A great lover of art, Ignacy Jan Paderewski passionately filled his villa at Riond-Bosson with works of Far Eastern art from China, Japan and Indochina.

With the help of trusted art dealers and antiques traders, Paderewski amassed an impressive collection numbering several hundred pieces in ceramics, metal, lacquer, stone, bone, glass and wood.

The jewel of the collection was a group of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Chinese vessels decorated with cloisonné enamel, a technique in which a metal surface is decorated with colour glass paste.

Paderewski worked to promote his homeland’s cause throughout his life. Whilst taking advantage of his numerous contacts and enormous popularity, he tirelessly advocated the case for restoring the right of Poles to an independent country.

It is said that the beginning of Paderewski's public activity is the year 1910 – the 500th anniversary of the defeat of the Teutonic Knights at Grunwald, when he founded the creation of a monument commemorationg the great Polish triumph. At the monument’s grand unveiling, the pianist delivered an impassioned speech underscoring that the piece was the product of love for the homeland, a symbol of Poland’s past glory and a sign of better times ahead. The members of the “Kurek” (Hammer) Riflemen Society in Krakow used the Grunwald Monument motif in their diploma as a reference to the master’s great contribution to the Polish cause. Later, the pianist himself underscored that funding the monument proved to be a turning point in his life, inspiring him to get involved in politics.

During the First World War, the pianist’s social and political involvement revealed another one of his talents – for negotiation and diplomacy. It is said that because of Paderewski’s actions, President Woodrow Wilson made the 13th of his Fourteen Point address state the necessity of creating an independent Polish state.

When Poland returned to the European map in 1918, Paderewski put his musical career aside for a time and, the following year, took on the task of leading the Polish government.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski cannot be summed up in a word – an outstanding musician, diplomat, statesman and fervent patriot, he was also a devoted family man, friend and expert collector. His contribution to Poland’s regained independence cannot be overstated.

The National Museum in Warsaw also honours him as one of its great donors. It is there, in the Gallery of 19th Century Art, that Paderewski’s most famous portrait by Lawrence Alma-Tadema may be admired on an everyday basis.

Credits: Story

Dr Magdalena Pinker
Joanna Bojarska-Cieślik, dr Anna Feliks, Joanna Popkowska

GCI curator
Magdalena Majchrzak

Dr Magdalena Pinker, Aleksandra Szkudłapska, Simon Włoch

Charlie Smith

Edited by
Joanna Habiera


The exhibition "Paderewski" at the National Museum in Warsaw is held under the Honorary Patronage of the Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki

The exhibition is part of the series „3 × Independent at the National Musem in Warsaw” under the National Patronage of the President of the Republic of Poland, Andrzej Duda, on the Centenary of Poland Regaining Independence 1918 - 2018

This series is part of the “Niepodległa” Program 2017–2021

Exhibition Partner
National Digital Archives

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.