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Portrait of Bach Heading Back to Leipzig

  • Reuters

Johann Sebastian Bach in a portrait by Elias Gottlob Haussmann (Wikimedia Commons)

Johann Sebastian Bach in a portrait by Elias Gottlob Haussmann (Wikimedia Commons)

A portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach that was one of only two known to have been painted in Leipzig during his lifetime will return after more than 265 years to the German city where he worked and is buried.

E.G. Haussmann's 1748 portrait of a bewigged and probing-looking Bach in his 60s, holding a sheet of music in his right hand, is valued at $2.5 million.

It has been donated to the Leipzig Bach Archive by the estate of its most recent owner, the late William Scheide of Princeton, New Jersey, a philanthropist and avid Bach enthusiast.

"The portrait, which probably everyone has already seen once in their life, is an icon of music history," the archive said in a statement.

The painting once hung in the Dorset, England home of the conductor John Eliot Gardiner, the president of the archives, who in a statement said it had inspired him as a child.

"I passed in front of it several times a day all through my Dorset childhood, a time when I was first learning to sing the Bach motets by heart.

"So it is both poignant and fitting to see the portrait leave its current home, where it has hung in the living room of the great Bach scholar and philanthropist, the late William Scheide, for the past 60-odd years, and to witness its return to Leipzig," Gardiner said.

Gardiner will present the painting to the public at the opening of Leipzig's Bach Festival on June 12, after which it will go on permanent display at the Bach Museum.

Haussmann painted two portraits of Bach, in 1746 and 1748.

The earlier one has hung in Leipzig's local history museum since 1913 and is in a worse state of repair, the archive said.

The later portrait was part of the inheritance of Bach's son, C.P.E. Bach. From the early 19th century, the painting was owned by a Jewish family, the Jenkes, from Breslau, now Wroclaw in Poland.

To escape Nazi persecution, Walter Jenke emigrated to England in the 1930s, where he befriended the Gardiner family and entrusted the painting to them to keep in the countryside to escape possible damage in wartime air raids.

Scheide, who died last year at the age of 100, bought it at auction in 1952. A major benefactor of Princeton University, he also had been a member of the Board of Trustees of the Leipzig Bach Archive Foundation since 2001, the archive said.