Swiss physicist finds new Chopin photograph

January 17, 2017 by norman lebrecht


The Institut Polonais in Paris reports that a Swiss enthusiast, Alain Kohler, has come up with a hitherto unknown photograph of Frederic Chopin.

The Daguerrotype portrait was taken in or around 1847 in the Paris workshop of Louis-Auguste Bisson.

Chopin looks less haggard that usual, and rather annoyed.

Dr Kohler was previously responsible for discovering a lost Chopin piano.

Comments (33)

  1. Brandon says:

    Fantastic. Well done.

  2. Elana says:

    How extraordinary to see him two years before his death. He also looks more handsome, rugged even, and, though possibly annoyed, less abjectly miserable.

  3. Noah says:

    Best news of 2017 (so far!!)

  4. Alberto Gamez says:

    Extraordinary finding. Two years before his death. He looks annoyed. Perhaps did not feel well. Congratulations to Alain Koehler for this discovery.

    1. John Borstlap says:

      He must have been feeling desperately miserable and weak and feverish. And yet, a noble expression. According to Thomas Mann, suffering, and especially physical suffering, brings about the best in the artistic human being, and creativity and illness are closely related. (I would like to think this were not so, creativity being a natural, positive energy. But evidence suggests….)

      1. glenn elliott says:

        I disagree. I can’t imagine trying to create anything as beautiful as the Raindrop Prelude on Majorca if you feel crappy. We’re lucky to have as much as we do.

        1. John Borstlap says:

          And yet, we know that trip to Mallorca was disastrous in terms of practicalities, wrong season, no transportation, shopping very difficult, and the company being utterly exasperated by it all, especially Chopin who felt bad all the time, according to all reports. Mallorca was not the easy-going tourist destination it is nowadays but a very rural and isolated place, beautiful but rough.

  5. Robert Silverman says:

    Maybe it was a Jewish photographer?

    1. radekk says:

      Have you problems with your brain?

      1. Harold Lewis says:

        I think that Mr Silverman’s curious comment may allude to the sour grimace that Goebbels pulled when reportedly told that the man photographing him at an event in Germany was Jewish. Before that Goebbels had been all smiles.

        1. It does not make Mr Silvermann’s comment less silly.

    2. Hilary says:

      Chopin was aniti-semetic…I see your logic here. We tend to wrongly assume Wagner was alone in this respect.

  6. Cathy says:

    Does anyone else think he looks a little bit like Nicholas Cage?

    1. Alan says:

      I thought he looked like Bill Clinton in this picture.

  7. Cyril Blair says:

    Wow! Terrific. Absolutely fantastic.

    He does look like someone, I just can’t put my finger on who.

    1. RW2013 says:

      the young Horowitz.

      1. Cyril Blair says:

        No, it’s come to me now. A young James Woods (the American film actor).

    2. Elana says:

      My immediate reaction was Mahler

  8. Christopher Jargocki says:

    What a sublime moment. His life was cut short at such
    a young age, only 39

  9. Christopher Jargocki says:

    What a sublime moment! His life was cut short at such
    a young age

  10. Jose Hilario says:

    I’m not sure about its authenticity….

    1. John Borstlap says:

      But the photo looks very close to the portrait that Delacroix painted:

      1. Maciej Pisarek says:

        Yes!!! You’re the first who catch it. The world will remember. Szacun! (= respect!, in Polish:)

  11. Grant Menzies says:

    It is an interesting angle. He actually looks like he’s put on more weight in this photo from 1849, the year of his death:

  12. Edu says:

    The discovered daguerreotype is the picture showed above? Looks like a canvas…

  13. Mr. B says:

    He doesn’t look as fragile as some of the descriptions of him suggest.

    I thought the Jewish comment
    was in very poor taste.

  14. Danijel says:

    Woke up today and saw this picture. Such amazing news! Seems like 2017 is going to be a good year.

  15. Ray says:

    If that’s a daguerreotype, it’s either a very strange one, or it’s very deteriorated. Or the published reproduction is “terrible.” As is, it looks more like a drawn portrait than a photographic one. A daguerreotype is generally razor-sharp (unless the subject moves) and this one… Unless, of course, this is a daguerreotype OF a drawn portrait.

    1. Cyril Blair says:

      I think it’s deteriorated. It just doesn’t look like a painting, at all. If he had been sitting for a portrait, no portrait painter would have given him that expression or that angle of the eyes. His eyes are looking askance. Extremely unusual for a painted portrait.

    2. Michael Fan says:

      I agree that it’s very odd looking. I won’t go so far as to say it’s fake, but the angle is very odd for a photographic portrait from that time, and the lighting does not look like Louis-Auguste Bisson other portrait Chopin.

  16. Terhi D. says:

    In order to have a daguerreotype done, one had to keep the eyes open for an unusually long time. For an exposure by overcast, dark skies in winter 3 ½ minutes was sufficient, on a sunny day in the shade 1½ to 2 minutes were enough. So, before you analyse the Chopin’s facial expression in this daguerreotype, try to keep your own eyes open and your face unmoved for 3 ½ minutes. Then let’s see what kind of expression you have on your face. 🙂

  17. David Hill says:

    I’m sceptical – this simply does not look quite right (in that it looks a bit too conveniently ‘exactly-what-we-expect/want-him-to-look-like’), and it does not look much like the genuine Daguerreotype of Chopin from 1849. We do not seem to have the actual original Daguerrotype in this ‘discovery’, only this picture of the alleged Daguerrotype. It seems to be based on the pose of the Delacroix 1838 painting, but such a pose is unusual for a Daguerrotype, with its long exposure time, and reliance upon special equipment to constrain the head for a long period. Normaly the photographers tried to feature more of the torso of subjects, not just heads. Here he looks thinner and more haggard than in the authenticated photo of 2 years later. Sceptical flags on alert until more proof, I think. I suspect it’s made using a realistic watercolour painting of Chopin, based upon the death mask, which was then photographed by crude means.

    1. James Irsay says:

      Until we learn the provenance of this picture, I remain skeptical. Doesn’t look quite right. We’ve seen other attempted fakes of Chopin before – I recall one claiming to show Chopin on his deathbed. In fact, we are not even sure of the date and photographer of the famous “1849” photo, which is obviously authentic. This new photo decidedly does not have the look of authenticity. We need much more hard information from Mr. Kohler.

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