Friday, May 7, 2010

Chopin, the Poles in Paris - Women in trousers...outlaws?

Paris is celebrating Chopin's anniversary. At la Musée de la Vie Romantique, yes the Romantic museum - a mansion nestled in the 9th arrondissement behind the street in a courtyard with a charming garden filled with blooming purple flowers and tea service, you find Chopin's Pleyel piano, paintings from Delacroix with his famous portrait of a haunted, ill almost tormented Chopin, pastoral scenes of Corot and studies of the 19th century salons where Chopin performed. Chopin only performed publicly 17 times in his lifetime, the rest spent composing, conducting affairs and his most famous fraught one with George Sand. The museum contains a permanent exhibition of George Sand, locks of her hair, painting of her and her children, her jewelry, few of her writings oddly enough, but much of her unconventional life.
The exhibition titled La Note Blue - focuses on the tie-in of music and art of that time and how Chopin, Lizst - his rival - furthered music and the piano manufacturers Pleyel - Chopin's piano of choice - and Erard - the piano Lizst played. Lizst was a modern 'promoter' for Erard - a 19th century marketer. Chopin who in his life, portrayed often as a frail, sensitive, artiste never achieved the notoriety of Lizst. George Sand ended their eight year affair when she thought he'd made a move on her daughter Solange.

We can see the plaster cast of Chopin's hand "with his velvet fingers" his lover George Sand called them, but not his death mask. At Chopin's death in 1849, penniless and tubercular in a garret in the Place Vendome, now commemorated by a plaque, he was an outcast from the aristocratic Polish society in Paris he'd played for.

Why didn't la Vie romantique have the death mask from the Polish library on the Ile Saint Louis where I've viewed it? According to the Polish archivist I spoke to researching Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis, Sand insisted on Chopin's death mask and paid for it. The first mask, so revealing his shrunken cheekbones horrified her, that she insisted and paid for another. Sand, his estranged lover, paid for the funeral...where were the Polish aristo's like the Princess Czartoryska who summoned Chopin to play in the salon of Hotel Lambert?
To me, this exhibit, organized by the French doesn't come close to the Polish Library.

The Polish Library contains a salon of Fryderyk Chopin commemorating him the with drawings and portraits of the composer and George Sand, prints and pictures from the period, an armchair from his last apartment at Place Vendôme, musical scores, letters and mementoes related to Chopin's death including his death mask a cast of his hand and a portrait of Chopin on his death bed. Much more authentic and heart felt

Moving on to the law that will make many of us 'criminals'
like this woman,

We know how clothes are very important to the French. There's a proposed new law forbidding the wearing of the burqa. But this isn't the first instance of the French government legislating what women can or cannot wear. In fact, it is currently illegal for women to wear trousers in France without the permission of the prefecture de police, according to a law passed by the Revolutionary government, the loi du 26 brumaire an VIII (1899). Later amendments (in 1892 and 1909) made exceptions if the lady in question was “holding a bicycle by the handlebars or the reins of a horse.” This law is still on the books, even though women and men were supposedly given equal rights by the Constitution of 1946, so all of you women who go about in trousers without police authorization, a bicycle or a horse are nothing but common criminals and are subject to arrest.
Like my friend Jo in Cafe de la Fontaine above and below on the Metro platform

Dress carefully meanwhile I'm off to sample this

Cara - Tuesday


  1. It is interesting that George Sand paid for Chopin's funeral despite believing that he had "made a move on her daughter". I assume that Solange was not a child or a mother's response should have been to kill him herself. If Solange had reached the age of consent, it still made Chopin a cad.

    Death masks as a means of remembrance is a trend that escapes me. I know that cultures have done them for thousands of years but since Chopin lived in a world with photography it would seem that Sand would have preferred a photo of the living man instead of a plaster cast of the dead one.

    She didn't like the first mask one because it made him look sick (???); apparently she thought it was better to have another mask cast that made him look healthy, thus taking cosmetic embellishments to a new height.

    Was that an apple tart you were going to sample? Such pictures are unfair.


  2. Beth...the librarian told me Chopin's first death mask so horrified Sand - ravages of the disease - that she didn't want him remembered like this.

    Yes, apple tart...will go for apricot today :)

  3. Gosh, Cara, I know that Romantic Museum.
    It's a gem.
    So few tourists go there.
    Which is a pity, because it's just so...romantic. How about posting a picture to show folks how pretty it is?

  4. This article is very flawed. For one, Chopin never made a move on Sands daughter, she respected him as a father figure for a reason and two Sand had little to nothing to do with Chopin's funeral OR death mask - these things were paid for by Jane Stirling. I suggest you do further research on this subject.

  5. I'll check into that. The librarian at the Museum told me Sand paid for the 2nd death mask.

  6. Hmm. I have not found any evidence of this. I have been a pianist and adoring fan of Chopin's music for 15 years. While there is much we don't know about Chopin, but the things I do know, I like to share. Remember, a Librarian is paid to be there, not an enthusiast who feels the need to learn these things for their enjoyment. If you have any questions email me: violetsaint82@gmail.


    1. I meant to say "there is much I don't know about Chopin" not "while there..."