Bach is coming home!

Wed 29.4.15

Mayor Burkhard Jung, Judith Scheide, Prof. Dr. Peter Wollny, Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Christoph Wolff (FLTR) at the portrait's farewell reception in Princeton / New Jersey (© Bach Archive, Deborah Gichan)The American musicologist and philanthropist Dr. William H. Scheide died on November 14, 2014, in his 101st year. Besides Princeton University, to which William H. Scheide left his collection of books and manuscripts, on January 6, 2014, his 100th birthday, he designated Leipzig Bach Archive as the beneficiary of one of the greatest treasures of his collection. Thanks to William H. Scheide, the famous Bach portrait of 1748 by the Leipzig painter Elias Gottlob Haussmann, valued at US$2.5 million, will be returning to Leipzig after 265 years. The portrait, which probably everyone has already seen once in their life, is an icon of music history and, to judge by the sources, is the only true portrayal of the composer. All the portraits of Bach known today stem from this one painting.

The portrait shows Johann Sebastian Bach in a formal pose aged around 60. In his right hand, he holds a sheet bearing the Canon triplex à 6 Voc: per J. S. Bach as proof of the sophistication of his craftsmanship. Haussmann painted two versions of the portrait. The second original, painted in 1748, is in a much better state of conservation. This is a captivating portrait, not only because of its glowing colours and sharp outlines, but also because of its moving history. The 1748 portrait was part of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s share of the inheritance and was once displayed as part of the voluminous collection of portraits belonging to Bach’s second-eldest son in Hamburg. The catalogue of the estate of the »Hamburg Bach« from 1790 describes it as follows: »Bach (Johann Sebastian) Kapellmeister and Music-director in Leipzig. Painted in oils by Hausmann. 2 feet, 8 inches high, 2 feet, 2 inches wide. In a golden frame«.

From the early nineteenth century, the painting was owned by the Jewish Jenke family from Breslau (now Wroclaw). Walter Jenke, a descendant of the erstwhile purchasers, was forced to emigrate from Germany in the 1930s. To protect the painting from air raids, Jenke kept the portrait at the country home of his friends, the Gardiners, in Dorset. As a result, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, today President of Bach Archive and one of the most renowned conductors of our time, grew up under Bach’s gaze.

In 1952, the Bach researcher and collector William H. Scheide from Princeton/New Jersey bought the painting in an auction. Scheide, who in the Bach anniversary year of 1985 had already expressed his wish to see »his Bach« return home one day, granted the Leipzig Bach Archive the exclusive right of first refusal when he visited the Leipzig Bach Festival in 2003. Together with his wife Judith, he finally bequeathed the painting to the Bach Archive. Bill Scheide died on November 14, 2014. As a member of the Board of Trustees of Leipzig Bach Archive Foundation since 2001, he had been one of the Archive’s most generous and loyal sponsors.

An article about the importance of Haussmann's portrait can be found in the current edition of our Bach Magazine.

Bach's send-off from Princeton was first reported by the New York Times: Read on here.


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