I paid a visit to a small, but very nice museum, mostly referred to as the “Bibiloteka Polska”. You find it on Île Saint Louis (see previous posts) in an old and nice building on Quai d’Orléans.
To appreciate the visit, it’s good to know a little bit of Polish history.
The Kingdom of Poland was founded in 1025, was for a long time associated with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (the “Union of Lublin”), then at the end of the 18th century “integrated” in Prussia, Russia, Austria… until gaining its independence after WWI… and of course again suffering during WWII. The borders have moved, disappeared and come back.
During the 19th century and the period of partitions, there were a number of uprisings with attempts to free Poland. Many Poles arrived in France already during the Napoleonic years. A large part of the Polish nobility, political and intellectual leaders ended up in exile and many of them lived in Paris, more particularly in the years 1830-70. Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski (1770-1861) somehow acted as an uncrowned king and unacknowledged foreign minister of a non-existing Poland and the “Hôtel Lambert”* on Île Saint Louis where he lived, became a centre for Polish political but also cultural activities. This was also where the Parisian intelligentsia in general met, of course including Poles like the two on which the little museum, around the corner from “Hôtel Lambert”, is basically dedicated - Frédéric (Fryderyk) Chopin (1810-49) and Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855).
Chopin, with a Polish mother and French father, moved to France at the age of 21 and died in Paris at the age of 39. At the museum a room is dedicated to him. We can see an announcement of the auction sales of his belongings (a month after his death). A few items have however been saved (or returned, donated) including a nice chair. We can also see his dead mask, a mold of his hand, a curl of his hairs, a signed letter, hand-written music scores… There is also a beautiful Pleyel-piano from 1845, not one of Chopin’s belongings, but he is supposed to have played on it. Walking around, you will listen to softly played Chopin-music.
Let’s listen to Arthur Rubinstein, another Polish-born Parisian exile, playing his version of Chopin’s Polonaise - Heoric. It was especially composed for the Polish ball held every year at the Hôtel Lambert.
Mickiewicz is widely regarded as Poland’s greatest poet, often compared to Byron and Goethe. Many of his works served uprisings against the imperial powers occupying his country.
During his younger years his was already politically active, arrested…, was forced to move to Russia. His poetry made him welcome to some intellectual salons in Saint Petersburg, including the one of Maria Agata Szymanowska, composer and piano virtuoso. This is also how he met and befriended poets like Pushkin, Goethe… met the daughter of the house, his future wife, … and got help to obtain a passport and permission to leave Russia. As from the age of 31 until his death at the age of 57, he lived abroad, mostly in Paris where he also taught at the Collège de France, but he travelled a lot, lived elsewhere, campaigning for Poland….
In the museum we can see a writing desk having belonged to Mickiewicz, some of his handwriting, a letter he received from Goethe, his portraits and also the portrait of Maria Agata Szymansowska.
There are some close relations between Maria Agata Szymanskowska and Chopin – she is said to have had an influence on his composing (you can listen to her music below) – and between Mickiewicz and Chopin – Chopin composed songs and ballads inspired by Mickiewicz’s poems…
A third room in the little museum shows a collection of paintings and sculptures by Boleslaw Biegas (1877-1954), a Polish surrealist artist.
There are also some rooms for temporary expositions.
*/ Hôtel Lambert was later owned by the Rothschilds, now by a Qatar Prince and under heavy (criticized) renovation.