Michael Lenson and Henrietta Schumann, Brilliant Russian/American Pianist - An Artistic Friendship Blooms in Paris, 1929
Michael Lenson and Henrietta Schumann
Can you help us locate the painting shown below - the portrait he painted of her in Paris in 1929?
In 1928, the Russian-born American Artist Michael Lenson won the $10,000 Chaloner Prize and went to Europe for four years of study. He was 26 years old at the time. Soon afterwards, the brilliant young American concert pianist Henrietta Schumann, also Russian-born, arrived in Paris to begin her studies with the legendary French pianist Alfred Cortot. She was six years younger than Lenson.
We do not know just where Henrietta Schumann met Lenson, but we now know that their friendship began in America. When she arrived in Paris to begin her studies, he was waiting to meet her train! In Paris, their friendship strengthened. Lenson sketched her. He wrote poems that she set to music. And finally, he painted at two extraordinary portraits of her.
Thanks to the fact that Ms. Bonnie O'Leary, the daughter of Henrietta Schumann, went looking for information about Michael Lenson just last month, the Lenson and Schumann clans have now been in touch - thanks to this Website. Thanks to Ms. O'Leary's efforts, several Lenson works (believed lost for more than 60 years) have been discovered just this month. So have some remarkable photographs of Lenson during his Paris years, including the one shown above on this page.
Yet interestingly, the portrait that Lenson did of Henrietta Schumann that is shown to the right is still to be found. It was described in glowing terms in Town & Country Magazine on November 15, 1929.
After they both returned to America in the early 1930s, Lenson and Schumann remained close, though their lives took different directions. Lenson became the head of the WPA's mural division for the state of New Jersey during those depression years. In contrast, Henrietta Schumann embarked upon an extraordinary concert career. She performed over 80 concerto with major orchestras in the United States and Canada and formed artistic liaisons with musical giants on the order of Leopold Stokowski, Eugene Goosens, Erno Rapee and Sergei Rachmaninoff. She performed the first radio performances of Rachmaninoff's First and Fourth Piano Concerti, not to mention his Variations on a Theme of Paganini.
Henrietta Schumann died suddenly in 1949, at the young age of 39, a stunning loss to the musical life of America. Lenson went on to paint until his death in 1971, at the age of 68. Their lives diverged, and their friendship ended due to forces beyond their control.
But thanks to Lenson's paintings and a legacy of Henrietta Schumann's sound recordings that are only now being discovered, their artistic legacies will go on. As will something of the magical time they shared in Paris, 1929.