Bach por­trait re­turns to com­poser’s home city


The best-known por­trait of Ger­man com­poser Jo­hann Se­bas­tian Bach was wel­comed back in his home city in an emo­tional cer­e­mony Fri­day af­ter an odyssey sparked when the Nazis came to power.

Back in the city of Leipzig thanks to the largesses of a late U. S. mil­lion­aire and clas­si­cal mu­sic lover, the 1748 work was un­veiled in a packed church, go­ing on public view for the first time in cen­turies.

Whis­pers gave way to loud ap­plause in the packed St. Ni­cholas Church as a white veil was lifted off the por­trait that shows the be­wigged com­poser aged around 60 in a for­mal pose hold­ing the score to one of his canons.

“Bach is com­ing home,” said a tear­ful Bar­bara Scheide, daugh­ter of the late U.S. phi­lan­thropist Wil­liam Scheide who died in Novem­ber at the age of 100, hav­ing be­queathed the paint­ing to the Leipzig Bach Ar­chive.

The cer­e­mony to wel­come back the paint­ing fea­tured the lo­cal St Thomas boys choir of which Bach was once can­tor and kicked off the an­nual Bach­fest, fea­tur­ing more than 100 con­certs un­til June 21, in the 1,000-year-old city.

“This is a stroke of luck for Leipzig, now ev­ery­one will be able to see the paint­ing,” said 73-yearold fan Kon­rad Kraut, sit­ting out­side the church on a lawn chair and watch­ing a tele­cast of the cer­e­mony on a big screen.

Bach, best known for com­pos­ing The Bran­den­burg Con­cer­tos, was de­scribed by the 18th cen­tury com­poser Ludwig Van Beethoven as “the im­mor­tal god of har­mony.”

His por­trait by painter Elias Got­t­lob Haussmann, now val­ued at US$2.5 mil­lion (2.2 mil­lion eu­ros), is widely con­sid­ered the most au­then­tic de­pic­tion of the Baroque pe­riod com­poser and ap­pears in many bi­ogra­phies.

“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,” said the Bach mu­seum.

“All the por­traits of Bach known to­day stem from ing.”

this one paint-

‘Un­der Bach’s gaze’

The paint­ing’s his­tory col­or­ful and be­guil­ing.

Its ex­act where­abouts over many years are un­cer­tain, but it was owned from the early 19th cen­tury by the Jewish Jenke fam­ily from Bres­lau, now Wroclaw in west­ern Poland.

Wal­ter Jenke, a de­scen­dant of the buyer, fled Ger­many in the 1930s when the Nazis came to power.

The por­trait was put for safe­keep­ing dur­ing World War II at the coun­try home of friends, the Gar­diner fam­ily, in the south­west­ern English county of Dorset, away from Ger­man bombs.

In an­other twist to the por­trait’s tale, English con­duc­tor John Eliot Gar­diner — now the Bach Ar­chive’s pres­i­dent and one of the world’s great Bach con­duc­tors — grew up with the paint­ing.

“I lit­er­ally grew up un­der Bach’s gaze,” he said in April, when he brought his Mon­teverdi Choir to ser­e­nade the por­trait at Scheide’s home in Prince­ton, New Jer­sey, in

is both the pres­ence of the phi­lan­thropist’s widow Ju­dith.

Gar­diner — au­thor of a 2013 book on Bach, “Mu­sic in the Cas­tle of Heaven” — said it was “grat­i­fy­ing” to see the jour­ney of the por­trait com­ing full cir­cle.

It was last owned by Scheide — who struck it rich at a young age from oil and de­voted his life to mu­si­col­ogy and rare books — and who bought the paint­ing at an auc­tion in 1952.

Decades later, in 1985, he had ex­pressed a wish to see it re­turn home one day, the mu­seum said.

In Fe­bru­ary, Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity an­nounced that Scheide, an alum­nus, had do­nated his col­lec­tion of rare books and manuscripts val­ued at some US$300 mil­lion.

The Scheide col­lec­tion also in­cludes the first six printed edi­tions of the Bi­ble and an orig­i­nal print­ing of the U.S. Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence.

Now the Leipzig ar­chive — lo­cated in a 16th cen­tury build­ing op­po­site St. Thomas Church, where Bach served as can­tor for 27 years — is putting the por­trait on per­ma­nent public dis­play for the first time since the 18th cen­tury.


Leipzig’s Mayor Burkhard Jung, Ju­dith McCartin Scheide, Bri­tish con­duc­tor and Pres­i­dent of the Bach ar­chive, Sir John Eliot Gar­diner, direc­tor of the Bach ar­chive Peter Wollny and Bar­bara Scheide un­veil a por­trait of Ger­man com­poser Jo­hann Se­bas­tian Bach by Ger­man painter Elias Got­t­lob Haussmann in the Niko­lai church in Leipzig, eastern Ger­many on Fri­day, June 12.

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