The history of Chopin collections is complex and stormy. Many mementos have disappeared irretrievably; fate has apparently not been supportive of efforts to preserve the artist’s legacy. Starting with purposeful destruction, for example, by women involved in sentimental relationships with Chopin, the loss was completed by the unprecedented auction of the moveable property left in the composer’s last apartment, and then by conflagrations and wartime looting. Despite unfavorable historical events, a certain portion of Chopin’s legacy has survived. A substantial majority of this heritage is held in Polish collections, the most complete and diverse being those at the Fryderyk Chopin Museum in Warsaw.
The backbone of the Fryderyk Chopin Museum’s collections is the family collection gathered by the composer’s parents and sisters. The Chopin family saved both mementos from Fryderyk’s visits to Poland and those sent home from abroad after his emigration – letters, autograph music manuscripts, books with dedications. Most of the objects remaining in Chopin’s last apartment in Paris after his death ended up being auctioned off and dispersed. Fortunately, this procedure did not affect his manuscript legacy, which was directly secured by the application of a seal and drawing up of a written record. Likewise, Chopin’s last piano, returned to the Pleyel company after his death, was then bought back and transferred to his family in Warsaw. A large role in the preservation of Chopin memorabilia was played by Fryderyk’s eldest sister Ludwika, who was present at the composer’s death, as well as by Chopin’s Scottish pupil and admirer Jane Wilhelmina Stirling. It is thanks to them that some of the objects put up for auction remained in the family.
The owners of the family collection after the death of Fryderyk Chopin’s parents were, in turn:
- Izabella Barcińska – the composer’s younger sister;
- two of the four children of Chopin’s elder sister Ludwika Jędrzejewicz: Ludwika Magdalena (Ciechomska upon marriage) and Antoni Żelisław;
- the generation of Ludwika Jędrzejewicz’s grandchildren – the children of Ludwika Ciechomska: Józefa (Bichniewicz upon marriage), Ludwik, Mateusz, Laura, Maria and Antoni;
- the generation of Ludwika Jędrzejewicz’s great- and great-great-grandchildren – Józefa Bichniewicz’s son Wladysław and his daughters Maria and Krystyna (Porębska upon marriage); Antoni Ciechomski’s daughter Ludwika and her brother’s daughter Krystyna (Gołębiewska upon marriage).
The family collections were in considerable measure cleaned out during the January Uprising and the two World Wars. Over time, a few objects from the family collection found their way into the collections of the Warsaw Music Society, the National Museum and the Jagiellonian University Museum in Kraków; most of them ended up – via sale or donation – in the collections of the Fryderyk Chopin Museum in Warsaw. Almost al. of the material memorabilia directly linked with Chopin, held by the Museum, come from the Chopin family collection.
Equally naturally as in the case of the family collections, collections were kept by Chopin’s friends and pupils, comprised of letters, autograph manuscript gifts, other objects exchanged as gifts. The Fryderyk Chopin Museum has collections of Fryderyk Chopin’s letters to Wojciech Grzymała, Julian Fontana, Marie de Rozières, Solange Clésinger, George and Maurice Sand, Adolphe Gutmann and Stefan Witwicki. Fontana also had many music manuscripts in his collections, among others autograph manuscripts of a song entitled The Ring, the Tarantella op. 43, the Etude in F minor from the collection Trois nouvelles études, now held by the Fryderyk Chopin Museum. From the collection of Chopin’s ’cellist friend Auguste Franchomme came, among other items, 50 pages of autograph sketches for the Sonata in G minor op. 65 for piano and ’cello, as well as fragmentary autograph drafts of the Sonata in B minor op. 58, the Barcarolle in F-sharp major op. 60, the Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-flat major op. 61 and the Mazurka in F minor [op. 68 no. 4]; and from the collection of Paulina Viardot, an autograph draft of the Berceuse in D-flat major op. 57. The collection of the Princes Czartoryski (on deposit today in the collections of the Princes Czartoryski in Kraków) is represented in the Museum’s collections by autograph manuscripts of a fragment from the Piano Method Book and counterpoint exercises by Chopin, as well as by a few letters to Chopin; and George Sand’s collection (today divided between the Fryderyk Chopin Museum and the George Sand Museum in Valldemossa, the Christiane Sand collection in Gargilesse, the Musée de la Vie Romantique in Paris and the Musée George Sand in La Châtre), aside from the aforementioned letters, by a bronze Bovy medallion from 1837 and two damask napkins with Chopin’s monogram.
The well-known collection of the Breitkopf & Härtel publishing house in Leipzig – comprised of a set of several dozen autograph music manuscripts and authorized copies, letters and daguerreotype portraits of Chopin, bought by the Polish government in 1937 – has ended up in its entirety at the National Library in Warsaw. The autograph manuscripts from this collection, together with Chopin’s manuscript legacy from the collections of the Fryderyk Chopin Museum, were added to the Memory of the World International Register by the Polish UNESCO Committee in 1999.
A characteristic trait of historical and artistic collections is fluctuations in their content. Thus, objects that had been elements of collections started by Chopin’s contemporaries ended up years later in the collections of representatives from successive generations of enthusiasts of his work. Among the most important collections from the late 19th century and the 20th century, larger or smaller fragments of which are to be found at the Warsaw Museum, we should mention those of Arthur Rubinstein, Arthur Hedley and Samuel Rocheblave. Only Edouard Ganche’s famous collection did not find any counterparts here, ending up divided into two basic parts, one held by the Jagiellonian Library in Kraków; and the other, by the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris.
The collections of the Fryderyk Chopin Museum are accumulated by way of purchases and donations. Among its particularly distinguished donors, we must mention the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland, as well as the National Museum in Warsaw. Also invaluable are the gifts of private individuals who have combined their collectors’ passion with willingness to engage in public service. It is thanks to them as well that the collections of our Museum are more and more abundant, serving successive generations of enthusiasts of Fryderyk Chopin’s art.