The artist of this work is identified only by his surname – Poitevin – on the side of the figure. It is possible that this refers to Auguste Poitevin (1819–73); but the work may date from several years after this artist’s death, since it is similar in construction and pose to the 1884 statue of Bach constructed by Adolf von Donndorf as a memorial for the composer’s birthplace, Eisenach. For this reason, it is possible that the sculptor was in fact Philippe Poitevin (1831–1907). Unusually, the figure is not cast in bronze but is made of spelter, a zinc alloy that was particularly popular in the late nineteenth century for the construction of statues, lamps and candlesticks.
Although legendary for his skills as a keyboard player in his own lifetime, it was not until the early 1800s that Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) was fully recognised as a sacred and secular composer of outstanding significance. Felix Mendelssohn’s famous revival of the St. Matthew Passion in 1829 was symptomatic of the musical world’s rediscovery of Bach, and his elevation to the status of a classical master. It is for this reason that Poitevin has chosen to depict him with a cape draped over his clothes – as a symbol of his equality with figures such as Aristotle and Virgil. Similarly, Bach is given three identifying attributes, as a mythological character would have: his book, stylus, and organ.