Polish collector finds unique death photo of Chopin

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A Polish collector announced Thursday that he had discovered what he said was a unique photograph of iconic romantic composer and pianist Frederic Chopin taken after his death in 1849.

"Everything suggests that this is an authentic picture," said gallery-owner Wladyslaw Zuchowski, who has a collection of hundreds of daguerreotypes -- an early form of photograph.

"It is the only known daguerreotype of Chopin. Every other known picture of the composer is a copy," Zuchowski told AFP by telephone from his home city of Gdansk in northern Poland.

He said that he had acquired the picture in Scotland and had had it restored in London. He declined to elaborate.

The sombre profile portrait, measuring eight centimetres by seven, is signed by Louis-Auguste Bisson, a renowned 19th century French photography pioneer.

"It was probably taken in the Madeleine church in Paris, where Chopin's body was transferred after he died," Zuchowski said. Chopin was later buried in the French capital's Pere-Lachaise cemetery.

Zuchowski noted that he had not established exactly when the picture was taken. "Maybe there's an expert somewhere who could solve that," he added.

He suggested that it may have been ordered by Jane Sterling, a Scottish admirer and pupil of Chopin.

Despite the portrait's apparent uniqueness, Zuchowski said he believed that there could be other surviving daguerreotypes of Chopin. He noted that the composer was already famous before his death, and that photography had became highly fashionable at the time.

He said he planned to put the picture on show in his Gdansk gallery and also exhibit it worldwide.

"But it's not for sale, that's out of the question," he said.

Chopin was born on March 1, 1810 in Zelazowa Wola, near the Polish capital Warsaw. His father was French and his mother Polish.

Already a musical prodigy as a youngster, he fled his homeland amid an 1830 Polish insurrection against the occupying forces of Tsarist Russia.

He lived in the Austrian capital Vienna before moving to Paris. Having long had health problems, he died aged 39 on October 17, 1849.

While his body still lies buried in Paris, his heart was later returned to Poland and rests in Warsaw's Holy Cross church.

© 2011 AFP

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