NEW YORK (AFP) – The best-known portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach will go on public view for the first time in centuries after its American owner bequeathed it to an archive in the composer’s native Germany.
The portrait by E.G. Haussmann, showing the bewigged composer late in life holding the score to one of his canons, is considered by some to be the most authentic depiction of the musical great and is frequently reproduced in biographies.
Philanthropist William Scheide, who struck it rich at a young age from oil and devoted his life to musicology and rare books, died last year at 100 and left the 1748 painting – estimated to be worth $2.5 million – to the Leipzig Bach Archive.
The archive, in the city where the composer spent much of his career, will put the painting on permanent public display for the first time since the 18th century starting with a Bach festival in June.
In a handover ceremony Wednesday, the archive’s president, English conductor John Eliot Gardiner, brought his Monteverdi Choir to serenade the portrait at Scheide’s home in Princeton, New Jersey, in the presence of his widow Judith.
The Bach portrait was owned at the onset of the Nazi era by Jenke family, who were Jewish and fled Germany.
The family portrait was kept for safekeeping with the Gardiner family in the southwestern English county of Dorset, away from German bombs.
“I literally grew up under Bach’s gaze,” Gardiner said in a statement.
Noting that Bach posed for the painting in Leipzig, Gardiner said: “It is gratifying to see the portrait’s journey coming full circle.”
Scheide bought the painting in 1952 when it was put up for auction.
In February, Princeton University announced that Scheide, an alumnus, had donated his collection of rare books and manuscripts valued at some $300 million.
The collection, which Scheide had kept at the university during his lifetime, includes the first six printed editions of the Bible and an original printing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.