Liszt at the Piano, painted in 1840 - regarding Franz’s birthday yesterday, by Josef Danhauser
Danhauser (1805-1845) was an Austrian Biedermeier artist from Vienna, known also for painting the death mask of Beethoven soon after he passed away. Although appointed professor to the Academy in Vienna, he preferred travelling around Europe with his patron. Unfortunately he died young of typhus, at the age of forty.
The painting of Liszt and friends was painted for piano maker Conrad Graf; it’s not a depiction of any real event, since people on it had never been in Vienna all at the same time. It is an ideal group portrait of people that belonged to Liszt’s Parisian circle - George Sand, Dumas the father and Victor Hugo; Nicolo Paganini, Gioachino Rossini and Liszt. Liszt is playing the piano on which stands a huge bust of Beethoven, which he indeed had in his room, only smaller, and to which all three musicians of the group are looking at. On the wall, as a painting within a painting, there is a portrait of the poet Lord Byron, another heroic presence in absence.
Sitting on the floor, with her head against the piano, is Countess Marie Catherine d’Agoult, who reportedly always took that position when Liszt preformed, falling into some sort of trance ;) She was a writer that used pen name Daniel Stern and held a famous salon where many famous musicians played, including Liszt; the two fell in love and, after she abandoned her husband, lived together in Switzerland. They had three children together aming which one Cosima, the future Cosima Wagner :) Another lady of the group, George Sand, is not depicted as a lady at all - true to her self devised image she is dressed like a man and is smoking a cigar; her hand is on Dumas’ open book, while her leg rests on another - a particularly interesting detail which should suggest that there should be silence while the music is being preformed.
Liszt preformed series of concerts in Vienna in winter 1839-40 on Graf piano; it is however a bit odd that great champions of Graf pianos - most notably Chopin and Clara Wieck Schumann were omitted, especially since both of them used Graf’s pianos much more than Liszt.