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.
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!