The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts offers a musical audioguide, which pairs different artworks with various musical selections. One of my favorite combinations is that of a Polish princess and a Chopin Polonaise.
Paul Delaroche, the Romantic French painter, was a big deal in the 19th century, as famous as his contemporary Delacroix. When he wasn't traveling, he made his home in Nice, where his circle of friends included Ludmille Komar, Princess of Beauvau-Craon. The princess is the woman he poetically depicted in this 1849 portrait (Delaroche also painted an oval portrait of the princess's sister, Delphine).
Ludmille and Delphine were of Polish birth. They played a major role in the intellectual and fashionable life of 19th century Paris: a city full to the brim with Polish exiles. One of the most famous Polish expats in Paris? Frédéric Chopin. The sisters were also very close with the composer. In 1840-41, Chopin composed Polonaise in F-sharp Minor, Op. 44 and dedicated it to the Princess of Beauvau-Craon.
The museum paired the Delaroche portrait with this Polonaise dedicated to the princess. But the museum team didn't stop there: they selected a version of the song played on an Érard piano from 1849: the year that Chopin died and that this portrait was painted. In the Romantic period, pianos were so ubiquitous that Paris was known as Pianopolis. In part, this was due to the fact that there were almost 200 piano-makers in the city, including Érard.
As I stood in front of the portrait and listened to the Polonaise, I asked myself how the creations of these two artists captured this woman's essence.
The painting is poetic and moody. A bright, pinkish-gold light shines on the princess, and everything feels soft. The painting glows, the light shines out. She seems angelic, the feathers in her dress are like wings. I wondered what those big blue eyes had seen.
The music is fantastical and evokes a dance, making me wonder about the princess's dance of life: with whom did she dance, in which directions? I wanted to know her better.
What made these two artists feel the need to capture this woman in their art? And what art did she create with her own life?
Address: 1380 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montréal ∣ Métro: Station Peel or Station Guy-Concordia (Green Line) ∣ Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm, major exhibition open until 9pm on Wednesday