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Chopin portrait, restored after flea market find, may be a 'prelude' to a windfall

A portrait of Polish composer Frederic Chopin before and after restoration.
A portrait of Polish composer Frederic Chopin before and after restoration.   -   Copyright  Dariusz Markowski/AP
By Amber Bryce
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It’s not often you find a rare portrait of Frederic Chopin at a flea market, but three decades ago in Poland, someone did — and it’s been hanging in a private house ever since.

The peeling portrait of the Polish piano composer dates back to the 19th century, according to Nicolaus Copernicus University professor Dariusz Markowski, who examined and restored the painting last year.

He says it has significant historic and emotional value but has refrained from estimating what it might sell for.

AP
The restored portrait currently resides in a bank vault somewhere in eastern Poland.AP

Using advanced methods, Markowski narrowed down the 11.5 by 9 inch painting’s creation to the mid-19th century, based on the materials and pigments used and the extent of the ageing and damage.

Unfortunately, it’s proving difficult to pinpoint the exact year of its provenance and who painted it: only the artist's first name, Alfred, is preserved.

“It is evidently Chopin, but I cannot say whether he posed for this portrait or whether it was painted from another picture,” Markowski, principal of Torun University's Conservation and Restoration of Modern Art Department, told The Associated Press.

“We know nothing of its history or who it was painted for," he said. "It was in a very bad state, and I'm really happy that artwork like this can be saved."

Where is the Chopin portrait now?

Restored and in a gilded frame, the small painting currently resides in a bank vault somewhere in eastern Poland while its owners negotiate their next steps, including a public exhibit.

The artwork’s existence came to light as Warsaw hosted its 18th Frederic Chopin Piano Competition, an international event where 400 applicants from almost every continent compete by performing the works of the Polish virtuoso. The competition runs through to October 23.

Who was Frederic Chopin?

Chopin was born in 1810 in a manor house in Zelazowa Wola, a village near Warsaw, to a Polish mother and a French father. He left Poland at 19 to broaden his musical education in Vienna and then in Paris, where he settled, composing, giving concerts and teaching the piano.

He died in Paris on October 17, 1849 and is buried at the Pere Lachaise cemetery, but his heart is kept at the Holy Cross Church in Warsaw, where observances mark the anniversaries of his birth and death.

How was the painting discovered?

Michel Spingler/AP
A dog walks during the annual Braderie in the northern city of Lille, Sunday Sept.3 2017. The Lille flea market is the largest one in EuropeMichel Spingler/AP

An art connoisseur spotted the portrait at a flea market near Lublin in the early 1990s. Decades later, a financial situation prompted the family to seek a professional appraisal, which led them to seek out Markowski’s expertise.

A member of the family says it's “extraordinary” that the painting survived about 170 years of historic turmoil and ended up in a flea market. He says the family's recent attention to the portrait has also encouraged him to study Chopin's life and music.