Chopin experts debate photo's authenticity
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 1:15 PM
WARSAW, Poland -- Chopin experts are trying to determine whether a photo that has surfaced in Poland is really of the 19th century composer.
If authentic, it would be only the third known photograph of Chopin, who lived from 1810-1849.
Wladyslaw Zuchowski, a photographer and gallery owner in Gdansk, said Thursday that he bought the daguerreotype, the earliest type of photograph, from a private owner in Scotland in December. The framed copper and silver image bears the imprinted year of 1849, when Chopin died in Paris, and the name of Louis Auguste Bisson, a French photographer who took at least one photograph of Chopin during the pianist's lifetime.
On the frame is attached a piece of paper with Frederic Chopin's name.
Zuchowski said he believes it might come from a collection gathered by Jane Stirling, a Scottish student and admirer of Chopin's. He refused to identify its previous owner or say how much he paid for it.
Zuchowski said he plans to make it available for exhibitions around the world.
Several experts expressed skepticism.
Alicja Knast, the curator of the Frederic Chopin museum in Warsaw, said there are no records suggesting that such a daguerreotype was made of Chopin, but noted that there is a market for fake images.
Malgorzata Grabczewska, a photography expert at the Polish Library in Paris, said she has doubts about its authenticity because Bisson never imprinted his name or date on his daguerreotypes, while such stamps appear on daguerreotypes proven to be fake.
To her, the face does not resemble that of a mask taken just after Chopin's death, while the composition of the picture seems to be typical of the 1850s, years after his death.
"I have no doubt that it's a daguerreotype from those times, but is it really Chopin on his deathbed, taken by Bisson?" Grabczewska said.
Another Chopin expert, Steven Lagerberg, said he believes "it is a fake, and a rather poor one at that" because the image does not resemble Chopin and because the people who sat with Chopin's body for three days after his death never mentioned the picture being taken - a procedure that would have taken hours.
"The absence of good photographs of Chopin allows this sort of fakery to be taken seriously," said Lagerberg, author of the recently published book "Chopin's Heart: The Quest to Identify the Mysterious Illness of the World's Most Beloved Composer."
Vanessa Gera contributed to this report.