A storm of rusty curls sparkles with gold in the light coming in from the right side of the composition. We do not see its source, but we can guess a tall window unveiled in the upper part. The eyebrow arch, cheekbone, tip of the nose or the convexity of the chin are visibly shining. A young man of delicate beauty who peacefully looks at us is Ignacy Paderewski, entering into international fame. In 1890, when this portrait was created, the pianist made his first tour of England, where he gave concerts in front of the British Queen Victoria, among others.

The author of the portrait, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, was one of the most important British painters of the Victorian period, although he himself came from the Netherlands. In his work, he used mainly ancient history inspirations, creating scenes from the lives of the ancient Greeks and Romans maintained in an academic style. In the portrait of Paderewski, however, he expressed another of his passions – collecting Japanese art.

Paderewski, portret
Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Portret Ignacego Paderewskiego, 1890, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie

The Land of the Cherry Blossoms opened up to trade with the world only in 1853, then Japanese woodcuts, various ceramic and textile products started to appear in large numbers in Europe. Alma-Tadema, who became one of the founding members of the Japan Society in London in the year when the portrait was created, passionately collected various specimens of Japanese art. Among them could be a fabric with an oriental decoration that creates the background for the portrait of Paderewski.

Maesto shared the same passion for collecting Eastern art, it is difficult to determine when exactly it was born but it is possible that it was influenced by a visit to Alma-Tadema’a house. One could admire the size and value of collection gathered by Paderewski at an exhibition devoted to him at the National Museum in Warsaw. Here is a link to a virtual tour for those interested.

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