Provenance of the Guevara Lock of Beethoven's Hair

Provenance of the Guevara Lock of Beethoven's Hair

Hiller's authentication of the lock of Beethoven's HairThe original provenance of the lock of hair is clear from an inscription written on the back of the frame of the locket: "This hair was cut off of Beethoven's corpse by my father, Dr. Ferdinand v. Hiller, on the day after Ludwig van Beethoven's death, that is, on 27 March 1827, and was given to me as a birthday present in Cologne on May 1, 1883. Paul Hiller [English translation]." Ferdinand Hiller was a German conductor and teacher who traveled to Vienna in 1827 at the age of fifteen to visit the dying Beethoven. Hiller later wrote down details of two of his visits (March 13 and 20), including the fact that during the March 20 visit Beethoven whispered "I rather think I shall soon be setting out on the upward journey." The lock of hair stayed in the Hiller family until sometime in the 20th century. It next surfaced in 1943 when it was given to a Danish doctor named Kay Alexander Fremming as payment for providing medical treatment for Jews trying to escape from the Nazis. The lock of hair stayed in the Fremming family until it was sold at auction at Sotheby's in December 1994.

Inside the Locket

When the frame was opened in 1995, a fragment of paper with writing on one side, backed by a French newspaper, was discovered. We believe this to be a piece of the original authentication document, possibly in the hand of Ferdinand Hiller. Although not much of the text remains, you can make out the words "Beethovens" and "abgeschnitten" ("cut off").

Also found inside was this statement by Hermann Grosshennig, a restorer of art objects in Cologne, who in 1911 examined and reframed the hair. He notes that the hair was newly sealed to keep it dust free ("neu beklebt damit staubfrei") and maintained in its original state ("Urzustand erhalten"). On the back of his document is a pencil drawing of how the hair was to be coiled inside the frame.

A Short History

March 27, 1827 Cut from Beethoven's head by Ferdinand Hiller the day after Beethoven's death
May 1, 1883 Given to Hiller's son Paul as a birthday gift
1911 Examined by a conservator in Cologne and resealed in a locket with a wooden frame, with Paul Hiller's inscription placed underneath the glass backing
?-Oct. 1943 Property of an unknown Jew, possibly a member of the Hiller family
Oct. 1943 Given to Dr. Kay Alexander Fremming, a doctor living in Gilleleje, Denmark, as payment or as a gift for his assistance to Danish Jews escaping to safety in Sweden during World War II
Dec. 1, 1994 Sold by the Fremming family at a Sotheby's auction in London to four members of the American Beethoven Society (Ira F. Brilliant, Caroline Crummey, Alfredo Guevara, and Thomas Wendel) for £3,600
Dec. 1995 Under laboratory conditions, the locket is opened and 160 of the 582 hairs are extracted for Guevara to keep. Also found inside the locket is a fragment of the original authentication document and the conservator's statement from 1911
1996 The remaining 422 strands, along with the frame and documents from inside the locket, go to the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies. Scientific testing begins on a few strands from Guevara's share of the hair
October 17, 2000 The book Beethoven's Hair by Russell Martin is published by Broadway Books. Results of scientific testing are announced
2005 A film version of the book Beethoven's Hair, by Thomas Wallner and Larry Weinstein, is released by Rhombus Media
2007 The Guevara Lock of Hair is placed on permanent exhibit at the Beethoven Center
2015 Strands sent for testing in the Beethoven Genome project