George Sand’s Garden at Nohant
oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art
“What a repulsive woman Sand is!” Chopin remarked to his friend Hiller after meeting the novelist, a cigar-smoking, trousers-sporting iconoclast divorcée with two children, at a Paris party in 1836. “But is she really a woman? I am inclined to doubt it.”
Sand—the pen name of Amandine Aurore Dupin—had only recently been legally separated from her husband the Baron Dudevant. She was one of the first prominent and outspoken feminists in the annals of European history, and though the socially fastidious and conservative Chopin did not return her affections early on, he was eventually seduced well enough. Contrary to several Hollywood portrayals, Chopin was not an especially amorous person, though in the years prior to his introduction to Sand he had been spurned by at least two serious love interests (or more accurately, by their aristocratic families).
Sand and Chopin were constant companions in the ten years between 1837-1847, and in the early 1840s Chopin the musician, Delacroix the painter, and Sand the novelist formed the core of a de facto summer artist’s retreat at Nohant, Sand’s estate in the countryside of central France. There Chopin composed a significant portion of his output.
The exact nature of their relationship remains clouded by rumor and partisan accounts, and certainly vacillated over time. But it is clear that Sand became a nurturing, quasi-maternal figure for the composer as his health worsened; as the relationship slowly soured, she came to speak of him as her “third child.” In 1847 they stopped seeing one another altogether: Chopin had recently helped Sand correct the printer’s galleys for a new novel detailing the sad affairs of a wealthy actress and a sickly prince, and the implications must have been clear, as he refused to be reconciled with her thereafter and she was not present at his death.