A portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach considered one of the most important paintings in the classical music world is being returned to his home city after a 250-year odyssey that took it as far as the United States, the Bach Archive in Leipzig said Wednesday.
The painting is a bequest from late American philanthropist William H. Scheide, a lifelong collector of the Baroque composer’s music. It was previously owned for more than a century by the Jewish family Jenke from what is now the Polish city of Wroclaw, who fled Nazi persecution to England in the 1930s. There it was entrusted for some years to the family of Sir John Eliot Gardiner, now a leading Bach expert and president of the Leipzig archive.
“Leipzig is where the portrait was painted in 1748 and where Bach spent the majority of his working life,” Gardiner said in a statement. “It is gratifying to see the portrait’s journey coming full circle.”
Painted by Elias Gottlob Haussmann in 1748, the portrait is a well-preserved copy of a 1746 original that has suffered damage over time. It shows Bach in his early sixties, dressed in formal clothing and a whig as was customary at the time, holding a sheet of music. Bach died in 1750.
Leipzig’s mayor Burkhard Jung, who attended the handover ceremony in Princeton, called the bequest a “great gift” that reflected Europe and its cultural history. The painting will go on display at the Leipzig Bach Museum from June 12, when the city begins a festival celebrating the composer’s music.