Paderewski’s Autograph Book

In my last post I introduced Jan Paderewski, the Polish pianist, Prime Minister and all-round polymath. He’s one of the key figures in my project Musical Portraits in Bohemian London, which explores connections between artists and musicians during the late-Victorian and Edwardian periods.


Łazienki Park, Warsaw (which I completely fell in love with!)

Edward Burne-Jones, Portrait of Jan Paderewski

Left: Pencil on paper, 1882, National Museum in Warsaw

Right: Oil on canvas, 1890, Royal College of Music Museum

As part of my research for this, I was lucky enough to go to Poland in order to compare a Burne-Jones drawing of Paderewski at the National Museum in Warsaw with a painting at the Royal College of Music in London. I’m still working on the relationship between Burne-Jones and Paderewski, which is more interesting than I had at first realised. I’ll be exploring this in a future post. 


Paderewski’s Autography Book, National Museum in Warsaw

Thanks to the generosity of Curator Piotr Kopszak in Warsaw, I also had the opportunity to look at an autograph book that belonged to Paderewski himself. It seems that he took this on tour with him, where it was signed by the eminent society figures who flocked to his performances. This makes it an extremely useful source for attempting to understand Paderewski’s social circle, and it certainly revealed some interesting names.


Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Portrait of Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Oil on canvas, 1891, National Museum in Warsaw

The artist Lawrence Alma-Tadema (who also painted Paderewski’s portrait) pops up a few times, as does his daughter Laurence Alma-Tadema – a noted author, who worked closely with Paderewski. Others include Polish opera singer Marcella Sembrich and one-time President Herbert Hoover, who in 1938 wrote in the album: ‘One of the pleasurable moments that come in our lives is the refreshing of old and tried friendships.’

My favourite page of this autograph book, though, is dated 26th June 1925. It appears that on this evening Paderewski hosted a concert for international visitors at his home in Lausanne, Switzerland. Judging by their effusive messages, he made quite an impression. These entires offer a fascinating glimpse into how audiences (and female audiences in particular) responded to his performances.

Here are a few of my favourite entires:

  • Myrtle Dean Clark: ‘With the admiration of a would-be friend.
  • Dorothy F. Gilchrist: ‘A little girl who plays your minuet.
  • Mrs Max Gessler: ‘With gratitude for the great privilege of meeting you.
  • Mrs W. D. Hurlbut: ‘An unknown admirer.‘ [Not that unknown, if she signed her name!]
  • Mrs Winnie S. Robinson: ‘I am blessed with being here.
  • Marian B. Gilchrist: ‘With great appreciation for your hospitality and joy at the beauty I have found here.
  • Winifred Harriet [Stevens?]: ‘A very grateful pupil by proxy.
  • Mrs John F. Gilchrist: ‘From the big bare lakefront of Chicago, greetings to this jem [sic] of beauty.
  • Catherine J. Clark: ‘With deep gratitude for the love and joy you have given the whole world.’
  • Pauline Dunstan Belden: ‘Thank you for the spirit of the ideal in all we have found here.
  • Helen West Thomas: ‘With great appreciation to my ideal.
  • Jean Stevens: ‘A day I will never forget.
  • Margaret Moulding: ‘The most enjoyable afternoon of my European tour.
  • Elizabeth Perkins: ‘This afternoon will be the most wonderful memory of this summer.

I love the different ways in which these women (and they are all women!) have responded – from the admiring and the grateful, to those who see themselves as students. Some messages almost constitute aesthetic posturing, with references to beauty and the ideal.

Paderewski was an older man by 1925, but it is also worth remembering that he had a frenzied female fan club in his heyday – some descriptions of his performances evoke nothing so much as Beatlemania, with women screaming, passing out and even wielding scissors in an attempt to snatch a lock of his famous red hair. I reckon there’s a lurking sense of this romantic admiration in these 1920s messages, too. Whatever you think, they certainly offer an intriguing glimpse into how women responded to this famous musician.

In a way, this is celebrity autograph culture in reverse – rather than fans seeking the signature of their hero, they offer their own up in tribute to him. A piece of them goes with the celebrity, rather than the other way around.


Paderewski’s grave

Admiration for Paderewski is still evident in Warsaw, where he is remembered as a national hero – more, I believe, for his political career than his musical one. I visited his grave, in a fantastically creepy crypt under a beautiful old church. It boasted a wreath of fresh flowers in the colours of the Polish flag on the day I was there. I also came across a statue of Paderewski in the park, and (best of all) a brand of Paderewski vodka at the airport. It’d be rude not to… na zdrowie!











A Forgotten Book


The forgotten book in question…

I’ve blogged before about using eBay as a research tool. I trawl the website frequently, looking for new material related to the singers who populate my PhD thesis. I’ve made some excellent finds, including a rare first edition which cost the princely sum of 99p!  I also regularly search AbeBooks, an online marketplace for rare books and ephemera. I have bought many unusual books and original letters through this website over the past few years, but my latest purchase is by far the most interesting. I’ve located a new work authored by Sir Charles Santley, the Victorian opera singer who was the subject of the exhibition I curated earlier this year.

When searching for material related to Santley, a work entitled Meditations for Each Day of the Month of June came up in my search results. It piqued my interest immediately, as I’ve been researching Santley for years now and haven’t come across it before. There was no description of the work and I couldn’t find anything about it online, so I paid £5.99 and waited for the mysterious item to be delivered.


Santley’s grave (St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, London)

When the small red book arrived, it became clear that it was a religious work containing a series of meditations on the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Devotion to the Sacred Heart, my research has subsequently informed me, is a type of Catholic worship especially associated with the month of June. In his later life Santley converted to Catholicism and became a prominent figure in the Church. In 1887 he was made a Knight Commander of St. Gregory the Great by Pope Leo XIII. This is an honour awarded by the Pope in special recognition of service to the Church. Santley was so proud of his title that the letters ‘K. C. S. G.’ are displayed prominently on his grave. Interestingly, my research has also revealed that Pope Leo XIII, who bestowed this honour upon Santley, was particularly associated with the cult of the Sacred Heart and elevated its status within the Church’s calendar. Perhaps, then, Santley’s work was in some ways a nod to the Pope who had honoured him. The book contains a Nihil obstat, indicating that it was officially sanctioned by the Catholic authorities.


I still haven’t completely solved the mystery of this book. It is clearly stated that the work is Santley’s translation ‘from the Italian’. However, I have no idea what exactly this is a translation of. No original author is listed, and there is no introduction or preface to give an indication of the original source. Nevertheless, it is interesting that Santley was working as a translator. He spent much time in Italy and discussed his love for the Italian language in his autobiographies. He was fluent in Italian, and was also familiar with various regional dialects. This means that ‘translator’ can now be added to the list of Santley’s many other skills – singer, composer, adventurer, author, artist and linguist!


My copy of this book appears to be the only known one in existence. It is not in the British Library or the Bodleian collections, and no other copies appear to be for sale online. It was published by R. & T. Washbourne, who produced many other religious works in late-Victorian and Edwardian London. The book must have been printed in limited numbers for a select Catholic audience, or more copies would survive. Interestingly, a sticker in my copy reveals that it was formerly part of the library at the Syon Monastery in Chudleigh. Despite extensive searches, I have only been able to find one brief review in the archive of Catholic newspaper The Tablet. If anyone else finds a copy of this work, or knows something about it that I may not, then please do get in touch!