The iconic 1748 portrait of JS Bach (left) has been donated to the Bach Archive in Leipzig, following the death of American philanthropist William H Scheide.


Painted in 1748 by Leipzig artist Elias Gottlob Haussmann, it is said to be the only portrait of Bach painted from life and is the basis of all other portraits of the composer.

In the 265 years since its creation in Leipzig, it has spent time in Hamburg, Poland, the UK and the USA. However, on 29 April 2015, it was donated to the mayor of Leizpig, Burkhard Jung, and the Bach Archive’s president, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, and director, Professor Peter Wollny, in a private ceremony with Scheide’s family, returning the painting to its birth place.

Scheide, an American philanthropist and Bach scholar, obtained the portrait in 1952 after the Jenke family, who had owned the painting since the early 1800s, put it up for auction. On 6 January 2014, his 100th birthday, Scheide officially named the Bach Archive as the beneficiary of his most treasured artwork, after expressing in 1985 that he would like to see the portrait return to its home.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner, president of the Leipzig Bach Archive, also has a personal attachment to the portrait, as it spent the duration of World War Two in his father’s country home in Dorset. ‘I passed in front of it several times a day all through my Dorset childhood,’ he recalls, ‘it is both poignant and fitting to see the portrait leave its current home… and to witness its return to Leipzig.’

On 12 June, in a special ceremony for the opening of the 2015 Bach Festival, the portrait will be presented to the public before being permanently displayed at the Leipzig Bach Museum.


Photograph: © Bach Archiv Leipzig