Many of the Art Centre’s historical European paintings are here thanks to the remarkable collecting activity of long-time donor and friend Alfred Bader. Among other things, he has gained fame for acquiring important paintings that were unrecognized at the time by scholars. Enquiry has played a large role, as in his career as a chemist: he is drawn to problems, challenges, and exchange with scholars. This exhibition highlights some of his most striking finds, accompanied by vital pieces of evidence including x-rays, infrared images, and related prints and paintings. It is highlighted by the story of Alfred Bader’s devotion to Rembrandt (1606-1669), from his student days at Harvard to his purchase of several paintings that were subsequently acknowledged as by the master, here exemplified by the Head of an Old Man in a Turban. Bought in 2000, it came back into scholarly acceptance in an international exhibition on Rembrandt in 2006, and was subsequently donated to the Art Centre in 2007.
In like fashion, a small painting on copper, purchased in England, was introduced to the world in an exhibition in Edinburgh and Frankfurt as an original work by Adam Elsheimer, and is now the only painting by him in a Canadian public collection.
A particularly dramatic Bader discovery is an Adoration of the Shepherds, now securely identified as a work by El Greco (1541-1614). This painting has furthermore proved to be a significant cornerstone in understanding this artist’s early career in Italy, as revealed in extensive research by Queen’s professor David McTavish.
Other important finds featured here include works by Rembrandt’s early associate Jan Lievens (1607-1674), whose remarkable talent Alfred Bader has long championed, but which has only recently come to enjoy the recognition it deserves.