The Composer’s Garden

The garden with Chopin’s monument at Royal Łazienki is one of the most frequently visited places in the city

The Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

Why Chopin? by Paweł CzarneckiThe Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

Why Chopin?

The idea of commemorating Fryderyk Chopin by erecting a monument to the composer in a prominent site in Warsaw was mooted in the 1870s by the Warsaw Music Society. From the very outset of the project’s long and complicated history.

The figure and work of the great composer and pianist were important elements in re-establishing the identity of a Polish nation that had been weakened by successive partitions and wars.

Why Chopin? by Paweł CzarneckiThe Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

Today, in a free Poland, the monument and its garden setting remind us of that difficult past, but also – as a cultural and green space – it is a source of aesthetic pleasure and relaxation.

Its popularity among the residents of Warsaw and tourists is undoubtedly due to the phenomenon of Fryderyk Chopin, but also important is the success of the choice of the place itself. integrating several fields of the arts – music, sculpture and the art of garden design – with nature.

The Garden at the Royal ŁazienkiThe Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

The Garden at the Royal Łazienki

The garden is part of the Royal Łazienki, but thanks to being surrounded by dense tall trees it gives the impression of an enclosed whole. It is a green, elegant ‘interior’ designated specifically to highlight the monument.

The colours of the natural materials make up a limited yet sophisticated palette – the red sandstone used for the pedestal of the monument.

the edging of the pool and the steps connecting the flowerbeds, the sandy surface of the paths and the colour of the plants. The garden is laid out on a regular plan, with the main entrance accessible from Aleje Ujazdowskie.

A musical amphitheatre in a garden settingThe Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

A musical amphitheatre in a garden setting

The surroundings of the Chopin monument were designed as a musical amphitheatre in a garden setting. The auditorium is composed of rose beds laid out around the monument in the form of seating in an amphitheatre

The pedestal of the monument serves as the stage. This concept dates back to the 1920s and is attributed to the architect Oskar Sosnowski (1880–1939), founder of the Department of Polish Architecture at the Warsaw Polytechnic.

In the early 1960s his idea was masterfully reconstructed and implemented by Longin Majdecki (1925–1997), using his skills as a landscape architect, gardener and conservator of historic garden layouts.

Sunday Chopin RecitalsThe Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

Sunday Chopin Recitals

In this way, an egalitarian space, accessible to everyone was created in the Royal Łazienki in Warsaw in order to experience Chopin’s timeless music. The Chopin recitals, famous throughout Warsaw, which are held near the monument every Sunday from mid-May.

This tradition dates back to 1959. Pianists play Chopin’s works in historic buildings of the Royal Łazienki – the Palace on the Isle and the Old Orangery, and the audience listens to them through loudspeakers set up in the garden or via the Internet.
 

Experiencing the placeThe Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

Experiencing the place

This unique open-air concert hall is surrounded by a pathway for walking. While strolling along it, walkers can take in other views of the monument.

In the frame shown here it is seen from a distance against a background of hornbeams and oaks, which turn red in the autumn. The branches of one of the two tsarist poplars planted in this place form a dark frame. Also visible is a bed of Rosa Fryderyk Chopin.

The monumentThe Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

The monument

The statue of Fryderyk Chopin which towers over the surface of the water is the work of the outstanding sculptor Wacław Szymanowski (1859–1930). The seven-metre high sculpture is made of bronze.

The architectural setting of the monument, whose authors were Franciszek Miączyński (1874–1947) and Oskar Sosnowski, consists of a red sandstone pedestal, together with a pond lined with panels of the same stone.

During the summertime recitals, the pedestal on which the sculpture is installed serves as a stage for the pianists.

The sculptureThe Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

The sculpture

The monument was erected in the Royal Łazienki in November 1926. However, the project itself was conceived in the early twentieth century, several years before the competition for its realisation was announced in 1908.

However, fifty years elapsed from the time of coming up with the idea to commemorate the Polish composer before it ultimately came to fruition.

The monument, which has become the most recognizable statue of the Polish composer in the world and one of the symbols of Warsaw, shows the figure sitting under a tree.

Portrait of the composer – an expression of the act of listeningThe Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

Portrait of the composer

The figure of the composer, listening to the sounds of music and the surrounding nature, the arrangement of his head and body, and the gesture of his hand, are ‘all ways of expressing the act of listening and mood’

Which is how the jury of the 1909 competition assessed the design for the monument. The figure of Chopin does not reflect his external likeness, the face is not a faithful portrait, but an image of the ideal artist-composer.

The timeless character of the representation is also emphasised by the clothing, which does not depict a specific garment. The figure is clad in an undefined material that is seamlessly interwoven with the base and trunk of the tree.

The shape of soundThe Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

The shape of sound

Wacław Szymanowski was himself a musician and played Chopin’s works. The monument is an expression of the sculptor’s personal experience of Chopin’s music and an attempt to find an appropriate shape representing the sounds of music in sculptural matter.

The aim of his sculptural composition was to capture the ephemeral quality of experience and the bond with nature, which was the inspiration for both these fields of art: sculpture and music.

The tree, under which the figure sits, is not only a visual expression of this relationship, but also a symbol of the idealization of the artist-musician, who is depicted in a moment of creative inspiration.

The hand depicted in a characteristic gesture tensed and ready to extract sounds from an absent keyboard, with fingers spread apart seems to echo the shape of the crown of the tree, whose leaves, moved by the wind, will in a moment begin to play music.

Light and shadowThe Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

Light and shadow

The sculpture, like the surrounding greenery, changes under the influence of light. The sketchy, rough texture of the bronze sculpture reflects traces of the tools used to make it and the original clay modelling.

The surface is full of hollows and bulges, and the light skimming over it gives it expression, adds plasticity and heightens the impression of immateriality, blurring the boundaries between the sculpture and the surrounding space.

The TreeThe Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

The Tree

‘This is the idea behind my work: the artist listens to the murmur of the willow tree – nature from which he draws his inspiration, [...] from the singing of Polish fields, forests and rivers, from the Polish soul.’ [Wacław Szymanowski].

The depiction of the tree under which Chopin sits gave rise to a great deal of controversy. Some were of the opinion that the representation of a tree in sculpture was inappropriate, or even unnecessary, especially when the monument is surrounded by nature.

Sketches from natureThe Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

Sketches from nature

Meanwhile, a dynamic tree – repeating shapes from its surroundings – growing out of the base of the sculpture and at the same time providing shelter for the figure sitting underneath it, is not only an element of the monument’s composition.

One which conveys spiritual content, but through its abstract, processed form it mediates between the sculptural mass and the changing structure of nature itself.

The presence of the sculptural tree highlights the monument’s integration with the surrounding nature thereby indicating the sources of inspiration for the both sculptor and the musician.

The boundaries of spaceThe Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

The boundaries of space

The expressive sculpture with its soft, light refracting surface and flowing lines is devoid of any frontal arrangement.

The sculpture’s asymmetrical shape seems to transgress the boundaries between itself and its surroundings. The monument is incorporated into the organized garden space, which is composed of symmetrically arranged flowerbeds and a curtain of trees.

Chopin surrounded by greeneryThe Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

Chopin surrounded by greenery

The choice of plants in the garden is sparing, but sophisticated, in harmony with the monument’s features.

The designers took care to create interesting combinations by using the shapes, textures and colours of the plants. From June to early September roses bloom in the flowerbeds around the monument, providing the garden’s visitors with fragrant visual impression.

Flowerbeds bursting with rosesThe Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

Flowerbeds bursting with roses

The tiny flowers of the Aspirin and The Fairy varieties burst forth in a froth of pink and white, extending slightly beyond the walls of the regularly spaced beds.

Previously, until the garden’s renovation carried out in 2014 by Barbara Kraus-Galinska, scarlet Irish Wonder and Nina Weibull varieties, probably selected back in the 1960s by Longin Majdecki in reference to modernism, grew in their place.

Flowerbeds bursting with rosesThe Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

Today’s pink-and-white palette corresponds with other areas of the Royal Łazienki gardens, where a sense of delicacy and pastel colours prevail.

Naturally and artisticallyThe Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

Naturally and artistically

The setting for the roses is created by, among other things, magnificent tsarist poplars, a curtain of Nootka cypresses, symmetrically arranged groups of coniferous shrubs, pink and fragrant cherries, jasmines and forsythias.

In the flowering season panicled hydrangeas stand out against the dark green yew hedges, while ivy dominates in the shady areas of the garden. Plants play a dual role in the garden: as representatives of the natural world and as a means of artistic expression.

EmptinessThe Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

Emptiness

THE STATUE OF FRYDERYK CHOPIN DESTROYED
AND LOOTED BY THE GERMANS ON
31 MAY 1940, WILL BE REBUILT BY THE NATION
                                                           17 OCTOBER 1946.

In 1940, just fourteen years after the monument’s creation, the German occupying forces blew it up, like many other monuments in Warsaw.

This declaration appeared on the monument’s empty pedestal on the anniversary of the composer’s death, after the end of Second World War

Parts of the monument were taken to an unknown location, and the bronze thus obtained was probably used as scrap metal for the armaments industry.
 

ReconstructionThe Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

Reconstruction

An inscription carved on the pedestal of the monument near the steps on the south side informs us that:
 
MONUMENT RECONSTRUCTED
FROM PUBLIC DONATIONS
OF THE FUND FOR THE RECONSTRUCTION OF THE CITY
11 May 1958

The sculpture was reconstructed on the basis of a copy that was found of the composer’s head, a preserved plaster model of the sculpture and pre-war photograph.

The 116-piece monument was ultimately cast and assembled by the state cooperative ‘Brąz Dekoracyjny (Decorative Bronze), i.e. the former ‘Bracia Łopieńscy’ (Łopienski Brothers) bronzing company founded by Grzegorz and Feliks Lopienski.
 

Warsaw – the composer’s cityThe Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

Warsaw – the composer’s city

The restoration of the sculptural image of Fryderyk Chopin in Warsaw, dismantled by the German occupying forces, was symbolic, all the more so because the funds for this purpose were raised in a national collection coordinated.

By the capital’s Fund for the Reconstruction of the City. Rebuilding was also possible because, in the new political reality.

The general public’s natural need to regain lost signs of the continuity of tradition and heritage met the demands of the state’s socialist realist cultural policy, in which Fryderyk Chopin was to play an important role.

The Fryderyk Chopin Monument in the Royal Łazienki Park – one of the city’s ‘must-see’ attractionsThe Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw

The Fryderyk Chopin Monument in the Royal Łazienki Park.

Great music, however, does not bow to ideology, and the monument at the Royal Łazienki is not burdened with political doctrine, although its presence does undoubtedly testify to the city’s complicated history.

Today, the garden with Chopin’s monument is one of the most frequently visited places in the city, appreciated for its historical, artistic, and natural qualities.

The Sunday piano recitals, held at the Łazienki every week during the spring-summer season, have become part of the city’s cultural tradition.

The monument, From the collection of: The Royal Łazienki Museum in Warsaw
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Credits: Story

Aneta Czarnecka, Magdalena Lewna, Emanuela Koper

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