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The Museum dedicated to Fryderyk Chopin is an attempt at a portrait of the composer. A portrait of a personality which is – as Franz Liszt, Chopin's first biographer, indicated – intangible, appearing as a form escaping unambiguous definition. A personality which, in successive biographies, has been subjected to reinterpretation, not infrequently utilized as an argument in a broader historiosophic perspective, or modeled upon the image and likeness of commonly-accepted stereotypes of artistic historiography.

The museum collection as a type of portrait of Chopin – the composer’s musical autographs, letters, iconography and statements concerning his reception – becomes a point of departure for successive perspectives having the character of an analytical sketch or a synthetic image. In subjecting the collection to continual reconfigurations, the museum portrays Chopin via its permanent exhibition and its temporary exhibitions, in which music is equally as important as the visual aspect. It not only documents changing images of the composer, but also poses questions concerning their relevance, and attempts to discern in their genesis the attitudes and value systems used by artists and recipients.

The many portraits made for the composer’s 200th birthday were not so much cause for reflection on the crisis concerning his portrait, as they were a diagnosis of the condition of reflections upon Chopin. The characteristic features of the composer’s face or common motifs (the piano, the willow tree) have greatly multiplied safe stereotypes in the collective consciousness. The Fryderyk Chopin Museum’s Fryderyk Chopin Portrait Competition invites young artists to  reflect upon their own attitudes towards this most distinguished Polish composer. To reflect upon the relevance of his personality and music. Portraying Chopin can become a means of portraying ourselves (the individual artist, generation, group) relative to the artist and his work, the values associated with his era, in the contemporary context or in a timeless dimension.


The works singled out in the Fryderyk Chopin portrait competition for young artists are marked by their diversity, with regard to the approach to the composer’s likeness and the choice of techniques: a traditional oil-on-canvas by Tomasz Wiktor, Marta Łuka’s work produced using the difficult, but highly effective drypoint technique, and Robert Kuta’s drawing traced with a single line on checked paper, as if pulled from a school exercise book. The principal argument behind the choice of these three works was the variety of technique, showing how differently the task could be approached. Another argument was that all three prize-winning portraits, although immediately recognisable as likenesses of Chopin, eschew the portrait stereotypes that dominate the Chopin iconography. The 200-plus works submitted to the competition confirm that several representations – the dramatic daguerreotype showing an ailing Chopin, the head tilted in inspiration from Szymanowski’s monument in Warsaw’s Łazienki Park and the half-profile produced by Delacroix – have become very strongly rooted in the collective imagination, and it is difficult to ‘block out’ their suggestiveness. The prize-winning young artists succeeded in creating likenesses that are very ‘Chopin’, yet at the same time free from the weight of schematic, conventional portrayals.

Tomasz Wiktor’s painting is somewhat reminiscent of Lehmann’s portrait of Liszt: Chopin is looking beyond the picture, not seeking contact with the viewer. He is portrayed en face, so not in the way that is easiest for the portraitist. Although the image is painted in a traditional way, it is unlike those to which we have become accustomed. Chopin is inspired, dreamy and romantic, but also very much of our times.

In her print, Marta Łuka marvellously exploits the qualities of the refined technique of drypoint, which enables the artist to pass from a velvety black to a luminous white. We do not see Chopin’s facial features, which are lost in the darkness. Emerging from a black cloud with ephemeral features is the shape of a head, so characteristic that we have no doubt whose likeness it represents.

Robert Kuta’s drawing is much more sophisticated than it might seem at first glance. It combines an image of the composer en face with his profile. Drawn with a single line whilst listening to music, it is ‘disturbed’, similar, although not obvious, but also extremely apt in its simplicity.

In seeking to justify the jury’s verdict, let us remind ourselves of an idea expressed by Chopin himself, who in one of his letters emphasised that his playing left some things unsaid, left scope for the listener’s imagination. In our opinion, the three prize-winning works fulfil that criterion: they leave things unsaid, in subtle suspension, and scope for our imagination, emotionality and personal understanding of Chopin and his music.