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Waclaw Szymanowski:  Chopin / Orpheus

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According to Icons of Europe, Waclaw Szymanowski's sculpture portrays Chopin siiting under an uprooted tree as Orpheus does in Ovid poem.Waclaw Szymanowski
(1859-1930), the Polish sculptor, created his massive Chopin monument in Paris around 1902, before it was placed at Lazienki Park in Warsaw in 1926.¹

Various sources describe the sculpture as "Art.Nouveau", depicting Chopin "sitting under a willow tree seeking inspiration from nature", or "the stylized willow echoes a pianist's hand and fingers".

Orpheus under an uprooted tree / Ovid
However, Icons of Europe has concluded that the sculpture more likely refers to Orpheus sitting under a 'tree uprooted by the power of his music'.  The Roman poet Ovid describes in his famous story of Orpheus and Eurydice:²

"And list'ning trees their rooted stations leave;
Themselves transplanting, all around they grow,
And various shades their various kinds bestow.
Here, tall Chaonian oaks their branches spread,
While weeping poplars there erect their head."

Icons of Europe conveyed this observation in 2006 and 2008 to the
National Museum in Warsaw and the Fryderyk Chopin Institute.  Paul Niggl (Musiker Medaillen, 1965) also sees Waclaw Szymanowski depicting Chopin as "sitting under a wind-swept tree" (medal in panel).

It appears today that Polish sources at least no longer refer to Chopin as sitting under a "Polish willow tree".

IHT article, September 2009
An article in the International Herald Tribune "Meeting ghosts of Chopin's past" on 25 September 2009 included a photo of the above monument (online on 23 September with a different title).

Surprisingly, the author, Michael Kimmelman, chief art critic and a columnist for The New York Times, makes no comment on the meaning of the Chopin sculpture or on its background.

We sent the following letter to the editor of IHT the same day (but not published):



Chopin’s legacy


Michael Kimmelman’s article “Meeting ghosts of Chopin’s past” (Culture: Sept. 25) takes a narrow view of Chopin’s legacy, as it pursues his trail in terms of any buildings or “ghosts of the past” still visible in Warsaw. 


The article does not mention that the composer’s music and life are seen to have inspired the development of a Chopin.cult in Europe during the second half of the 19th century.  Sculptors, painters, composers and poets participated in this movement, whose origin will be clarified in Icons of Europe's new book.


An example, pictured in the article without any comment, is the large Chopin monument in Lazienki Park which Waclaw Szymanowski created in Paris around 1909 long before its placement in Warsaw.  We have concluded that it portrays Chopin / Orpheus sitting under an uprooted tree as described by the Roman poet Ovid.


Chopin’s legacy encompasses his music and the emotion and inspiration it stirs in people.

"Chopin’s legacy encompasses his music and the emotion and inspiration it stirs in people."
Icons of Europe

Medal by Szymanowski, 1926

"Sitzende Gestalt (Chopin?) mit wehendem Gewand vor einem Sturm bewegten Baum." [sic]
Niggl n° 506


"The elaborate and often Orphic artworks paying tribute to Chopin in Poland and Paris, created well into the 20th century - paintings, sculpture, poems, music, medals, the Zelazowa Wola park, surpass commemorations of any other composer" (Icons of Europe).

However, some scholars do not wish to explore this theme.  Why?

¹ Waclaw Szymanowski studied in Paris in 1875-1880 under Cyprian Godebski,
who “specialized in bronze busts of celebrities … and allegorical statuettes”.
The father-in-law of Cyprian Godebski (1835-1909), the cellist Adrien-François
Servais knew Franchomme.  Godebski's daughter Misia became a renowned
Muse and patron of the arts in Paris (like Princess Winnaretta de Polignac).

² Source:  Metamorphoses, Book X, The Story of Orpheus and Eurydice by the
Roman poet Ovid (born 43 BC).

The Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) also found inspiration
in the Orpheus legend (e.g. "Orpheus, aloof from the love of women").


"The elaborate and often Orphic artworks created in tribute to Chopin well into
the 20th century in Paris, Poland and USA - paintings, sculpture, poems, music,
medals, Zelazowa Wola park - surpass commemorations of any other composer."

"It would obviously be in the interest of Chopin's legacy to identify these artworks
much better and explain their provenance and meaning" - Icons of Europe