February 8, 2017

Finding Pauline Viardot-García at the Musée de la Vie Romantique


While in Paris last summer, I visited the Musée de la Vie Romantique. Hidden away at the end of a long tree-lined alleyway in Montmarte, the Musée is unique in that it is one of the last surviving links to a Romantic School which included Frederic Chopin, George Sand, and Pauline Viardot-García—all of whom frequented the house and its adjoining studio/music room which was built by the painter Ary Scheffer


Imagine my delight to find two Scheffer portraits of Viardot-García there; the first on the lower floor depicting the legendary mezzo-soprano in 1851 as Saint Cecilia; and the second on the floor above with Viardot-García in 1940, when the latter was nineteen, having just made her debut (the lithograph of Viardot-García within the header on VoiceTalk is from the same year).  


The oval medallion portrait was originally part of Viardot-Garcia's Cavaillé-Coll house organ and was only recently acquired. The curious thing was that I was in Paris the summer of 2014, and not knowing of the museum, did not visit it then. Had I done so, I would not have seen the portrait! Timing is everything? 


The 1840 portrait on the second floor is shown at an angle if only because the glare from the windows opposite made it somewhat difficult to take a photograph. Standing in front of it, you can feel the gravity of the Garcia Lineage. Viardot-García sizes you up from across the centuries, while at the same time letting you know her place in history. As her older brother, Manuel once said: "She is the real genius of the family!"

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