Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Picture Of George Sand

Complete Text (pdf) Here

1. saskia.ooms@musee-orsay wrote:


It's really an amazing discovery and you are a very good story teller, and I'm sure a very good writer as well. Your story interests me and I feel like reading George Sand again and especially to read more about the relationship between Liszt and Sand.

Could you send us a digital image by mail of the daguerreotype? I really am curious to see it now.



Not five minutes ago I was thinking I should have asked you on the telephone for your email address.

I haven't been as clear as I could have been in telling you the story of the George Sand photograph, so here again in brief is what I have discovered:

I bought the approximately 6 cm. oval photograph in an antique shop in Zurich last year: I believed at once it was George Sand. I checked the portrait against the existing photographs of GS taken when she was in her sixties, and against the paintings and drawings of her when she was 30 or 40, and the images conformed very well, but that was far from being conclusive proof. It is possible to find many people who resemble each other even in the same town.

There was a note hidden inside the hinged wooden box, behind the copper plate of the photograph. The note reads: Ich Liebe Dich mit gluhenszen grensenlosesten leidenschaft: I love you with the most glowing borderless passion. Since the language was German, I assumed it was not written by GS, but by the recipient of the portrait, and that it was in the nature of a memorandum. Since it was private writing, the language was probably the native language of the author. I immediately thought of Franz Liszt, friend of GS and native German speaker. I checked his handwriting through letters found on the internet, in the Budapest Opera Archives, and those reproduced in biographies, and my conclusion was that in fact, the note was written by Liszt.

Still, this was far from certainty: a photograph that looks like other images of GS, and handwriting that looks like Liszt's handwriting: it would be no problem to find people, experts of one kind or another, to dispute both similarities.

Then, reading though a collection of translated Liszt letters, I came across a letter he wrote to GS in 1845, the date I had tentatively given to the portrait based on the apparent age of the subject (a very youthful looking 40, if GS). In this letter, Liszt asks GS if she would like him to arrange a shipment of camellia flowers from Portugal, from where he has just returned. He says he will not be able to see her for several years, because of his continual touring, but he considers that their friendship has proved itself lasting in spite of time and difficulties, and that as he ages and the meaner aspects of life seem to be becoming more prominent, he appreciates their friendship more.

In the photograph, GS (if it is her!) is prominently wearing a large camellia flower in the top of her dress.

Now I could tell this story: GS replied to the letter: Send the flowers, and Liszt did. In return, GS had her photograph taken with one of the flowers, and sent it to Liszt, who added the memorandum, and kept it with him while touring, finally losing it or having it stolen during one of the many times he passed through Switzerland in the following years. An anecdote I read in a GS biography: GS declares her love to Liszt, who protests, "Only God is worthy of love." This sentence I found almost verbatim in Thomas a Kempis' book "Imitation of Christ", which Liszt couldn't help knowing: he considered becoming a priest when he was a young man, and in his old age finally was ordained a father in the Catholic Church. In "Imitation of Christ", the phrase "infinite light" is to be found literally hundreds of times as part of expressions of spiritual love. For example: "What a marvel if I should be wholly set on fire by thee, and die to myself, for thou art a fire always burning purifying the heart and enlightening the understanding...that I be melted away in thee and overflow with thy love".

The note found inside the portrait case then becomes an answer to the question, How do I love you? Not with romantic love, but a spiritual love. Thomas a Kempis again:

"In me the love of thy friend must stand, and for me he is to be loved, whoever he be that appeareth to thee good and is very dear to thee in this life."

So, the case for the identification of the portrait rests on:

1. Similarity of photograph to existing images.
2. Similarity of handwriting on manuscript to that of Franz Liszt.
3. Liszt's offer in an 1845 letter to GS to send her camellias.
4. Photograph shows prominently a camellia.
5. Interpretation of manuscript note as a private declaration of spiritual.
love, and Liszt's well documented deep friendship with GS.
6. Photograph dated to 1840's found in Zurich: Liszt was often in Switzerland in this period.

This is as far as I have gotten. Is it enough?

- Rex

 Read More:
The Picture Of George Sand (pdf)