The Women in Chopin's Life

Portraits of women who changed the life of a genius.

By The Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Scenario: Łukasz Kaczmarowski

"Chopin's Patronesses" (c. 1905) by Unknown authorThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute


Family, loves, friends, patronesses and pupils. The diverse nature of Chopin’s relationships with women arose from his situation as a composer-pianist and the prestige inherent in that role within nine-teenth-century society. His personality was particularly marked by the intensity of his contacts with his family and with the women who fascinated him.

Portrait of Justyna Chopin (2015) by Katarzyna Gągol after Ambroży MieroszewskiThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Justyna Chopin – Fryderyk’s mother

Justyna Chopin neé Krzyżanowska (1782–1861) came from a moderately well-off nobility. While spending time in Żelazowa Wola – belonging to her relatives, the family of Skarbek – she met Mikołaj Chopin, whom she married in June 1806.

They had four children, three daughters – Ludwika, Izabella and Emilia, and son Fryderyk. She was very religious, modest, remaining in the shade of his husband. However, she constantly taught children the traditions and developed their talents.

She always kept memorabilia after Fryderyk. When the composer left Warsaw in 1830, she met him only once, in 1835 during the holidays in Karlsbad. In her letters, she showed her care for the son living in Paris. As it appeared, she lived 12 years longer than he did.

Portrait of Ludwika Chopin (2015) by Katarzyna Gągol after Ambroży MieroszewskiThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Ludwika Jędrzejewicz neé Chopin

The oldest sister of Fryderyk – Ludwika (1807–1855) was talented in music, similarly to her brother. She also wrote didactic books and popular texts. From all the siblings, Ludwika was the closest one to Fryderyk, she also kept in touch with George Sand, whom she met in Nohant in 1844. 

In August 1849, when asked by her brother, she went to France again and stayed with him until his passing away. After it, she started putting in order the case of his heritage and preserving his legacy. Asked by Fryderyk, she took his heart in secret to Poland, putting it at the basilica of the Holy Cross in Warsaw.

Portrait of Izabella Chopin (2015) by Katarzyna Gągol after Ambroży MieroszewskiThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Izabella Barcińska neé Chopin

Chopin’s younger sister – Izabella (1811–1881) yet in her childhood was talented in writing, she also early became engaged in undertakings of a patriotic and charitable character. She was actively engaged with helping the poor, working in many institutions, such as almshouses or orphanages.

After the death of her sister Ludwika and mother Justyna, Izabella took care of Fryderyk Chopin’s heritage. However, she never wanted to use her rights to it. After the death of Izabella, Varsovian press published several notes about her, highlighting her selflessness, affection for her family, diligence and generosity.

Portrait of Emilia Chopin (1826/1827) by Unknown authorThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Emilia Chopin

The youngest of the siblings of Chopin – Emilia (1812–1827) from the very first years of her life was talented in music and writing. Despite her poor health, she was a very cheerful and active girl. Together with Fryderyk, she organised the children ‘Literary-entertaining association’, in which together with other children they recited and played theatrical scenes. 

In spite of the attempts of the medicine, Emilia’s illness – tuberculosis – developed fast and she spent her last months in the bed. However, she did not lose her usual gentleness, accepting her own destiny. An early death of 15-year-old Emily was very painful for the family of Chopin.

Portrait of Konstancja Gładkowska (after 1880) by Wojciech Gerson (?)The Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Konstancja Gładkowska

Konstancja Gładkowska (1810–1889), talented in music and extraordinarily beautiful, was of the same age as Fryderyk Chopin. The composer used to meet her probably during his studies at the Main School of Music in Warsaw, but he paid attention to her yet during the concert in April 1829. Fryderyk had a deep feelings for Konstancja – as we discover from the correspondence, she was a muse for Chopin when writing a famous lyrical Larghetto from Piano Concerto in F minor, Op. 21.

Fryderyk Chopin, Piano Concerto in F minor, Op. 21

Fragment of Larghetto inspired by feelings to Konstancja

Chopin's Farewell to Konstancja GładkowskaThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

From that moment, they kept corresponding for a year. Their acquaintance ended when Chopin left Warsaw – although before the journey Konstancja wrote a poem full of feelings in his diary, soon after she was married. Before death Konstancja burned all letters from the composer. 

Reproduction of the self-portrait of Maria Wodzińska by Maria WodzińskaThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Maria Wodzińska

There was a long acquaintance between the families of Chopin and Wodziński; in 1835, during the travel back from the sanatorium in Karlsbad, Chopin spend several intense days with the family of Wodziński in Dresden. Nicely spent time and growing affection for a very young, talented in art and playing on the piano Maria (1819–1896) effected in a growing feeling for her. In 1836 in Dresden, 26-year-old Fryderyk proposed to 17-year-old Maria Wodzińska. 

Envelope „Moja bieda” [My misery], included letters from Maria Wodzińska and her family to Chopin by Fryderyk Chopin, Maria Wodzińska, Wodziński familyThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Waltz in A flat major, Op. 69 no. 1, excerpt

However, there was no wedding after all. Fryderyk was not taken into consideration as a serious husband for Maria by her family. Wodziński family of the Jastrzębiec coat of arms were prosperous land owners, and the growing fame of the musician did not recompense his lack of a noble origin. Probably, there was also significant that the composer was of a poor health and had not a stable lifestyle.

Chopin dedicated his Waltz in A flat major, Op. 69 no. 1 to Maria.

Portrait of George Sand (1837/1839) by Auguste CharpentierThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

George Sand

In fact Aurora Dudevant nee Dupin (1804–1876), a French writer, one of the most famous women of the epoch, in the years 1838–1847 Chopin’s partner. The author of over 70 novels and novellas, over twenty plays and many essays. She became famous thanks to the courageous topics and independent lifestyle, crossing the borders of the social standards of the time.

Fascinated by Chopin and his music, she succeed in gaining Fryderyk’s attention, who finally gave up the plans to marry Maria Wodzińska. 

Chopin and George Sand (1974) by Maja BerezowskaThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

An intense romance with Chopin quickly transformed into friendship, closeness and attachment, and when Chopin had health problems, Sand was also his nurse. Despite the turbulent relation, it appears relationship of Chopin and George Sand positively influenced both Chopin’s art (especially during common summer holidays in the manor in Nohant, where several his most outstanding works were created) and Sand herself.

Solange (1937) by Ludomir SlendzińskiThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Solange Clésinger

Solange Clésinger nee Dudevant (1828–1899) was a second child of George Sand. Her difficult, rebellious character and whimsical behavior were one of the reason for her turbulent relation with her mother. She quickly became friends with the composer, who understood and supported her, he also taught her piano playing.

In 1847 Solange, despite her mother will, married sculptor Auguste Clésinger. The conflict between the mother and the daughter and constant support and financial help of Chopin also were one of the reasons for his breakup with Sand.

Envelope for Solange Clésinger's letter to Fryderyk Chopin addressed: „Monsieur Frédéric Chopin | 9 Cour d'Orléans | rue St Lazare | Paris” (1847) by Solange ClésingerThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

After this event, Clésinger remained in touch via correspondence with the composer. According to some, she was one of people present when he died.

Reproduction of the portrait of Delfina Potocka (1949) by unknown authorThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Delfina Potocka

Delfina Potocka (1807–1877) was a well-educated, comprehensively talented aristocrat, famous for her outstanding appearance and beautiful voice. She lived in different places of Europe, including a long episode in Paris. Delfina and Chopin met probably during the composer’s stay in Dresden in November 1830.

Biographers and friends of Chopin, after his death, suggested a deeper relation between him and Potocka. However, there are no hard proofs for it (apparent correspondence full of affection was a forgery). Without doubt, there was a close friendship between them.

Chopin's Death (1888) by Félix-Joseph BarriasThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Potocka was a Chopin’s student, she also composed. Chopin dedicated several of his works to her. Some historical sources say that she played for him on his deathbed.

Portrait of Jane Stirling (1842) by Philipp Hermann EichensThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Jane Stirling

Jane Wilhelmine Stirling (1804–1859), a Scottish pianist, friend and admirer of Chopin. Together with her sister, she organised a concert tour of the Great Britain in 1848, what had an impact on popularising of the art of the composer. Stirling’s doubtless merit was her care for protecting Chopin’s legacy.

After his death, she bought many personal objects of the composer and wrote an album, in which she collected the fragments from the press concerning Chopin. A part of collected memorabilia was forwarded to the family of Fryderyk. 

Grand piano Pleyel, serial number 14810, Fryderyk Chopin last piano (1848) by Ignace Pleyel & Compie.The Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Nocturne in E flat major, Op. 55 no. 2, excerpt

Among them, there were such precious objects as the last Pleyel piano of the composer, currently kept in the collection of the Chopin Museum in Warsaw.

Fryderyk dedicated his Nocturnes, Op. 55 to Stirling.

Portrait of Marcelina Czartoryska (1850) by Auguste SandozThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Marcelina Czartoryska

Princess Marcelina Czartoryska, née Radziwiłł (1817–1894), a Polish pianist and charity activist. She began studying music with Carl Czerny and continued in Paris with Chopin. Contrary to the realities of the day, she was not merely an aristocratic amateur of the piano – her talent was appreciated by such figures as Eugène Delacroix, Adam Mickiewicz and Franz Liszt. 

Portrait of Marcelina Czartoryska (between 1855 and 1867) by Franciszek FalińskiThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

When Chopin’s health seriously deteriorated, she became his carer and devoted friend. She also accompanied him during his last months, visiting him in his flat at 12 Place Vendôme. After his death, she became a prominent populariser of Chopin’s music, gaining Europe-wide fame as a remarkably talented inheritor of his performance style and interpreter of his works. 

Portrait of Pauline Viardot (between 1825 and 1845) by Louis von Fischer after Louis Hector François AllemandThe Fryderyk Chopin Institute

Pauline Viardot

Pauline Viardot neé García (1821–1910), a French opera singer of the Spanish origin, as well as composer and pianist, student of Franz Liszt and Fryderyk Chopin. She belonged to the closest circle of friends of Chopin and George Sand; many times, she visited the family manor of Sand in Nohant.

The cycle of 12 mazurkas by Chopin arranged by Viardot for voice with piano was very popular, willingly performed by the singer, also in presence of the composer. 

Fryderyk Chopin - Pauline Viardot, Aime moi (Mazurka in D major, Op. 33 no. 2)

Credits: Story

Scenario: Łukasz Kaczmarowski 

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