In 1995 I reviewed Alfred Bader's autobiography

A great man and his art

Alfred Bader

London, UK: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2008 | 246 pages| ?18.99 (HB) ISBN 9780297855125

Reviewed by John Emsley

In 1995 I reviewed Alfred Bader’s autobiography, Adventures of a chemist collector, for Chemistry in Britain (July 1995, p557) covering his life up to 1992, the year when he was expelled from the company he had founded in 1951. (For more details of that affair see Chemistry in Britain , June 1992, p496). So what did one of the world’s richest chemists then decide to do? He turned to the other love of his life which was finding, buying, and restoring paintings - especially those of the 17th century masters such as Rubens and Rembrandt.  Chemistry & Ar t is therefore more about art than chemistry. Indeed the book contains lots of wonderful illustrations of paintings that have passed through Bader’s hands together with the intriguing stories about them. 

Sometimes the worlds of chemistry and art come together and the author reproduces two articles from Chemistry in Britain (November 1997, p24) in which he asked RSC members if they could help identify the artist of a painting depicting a young Faraday being shown how to make Prussian Blue (see cover image above ). Bader offered a reward of ?1000 to whoever came up with the answer. Dee Cook of the Society of Apothecaries received the cheque for her suggestion that it was most likely to have been Thomas Phillips (Chemistry in Britain , July 2001, p99). 

Bader’s second career has been as successful as his first and his generosity more so. He has given money to universities to establish awards; he bought Herstmonceux castle in East Sussex for his old alma mater Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada; he donated pictures to the Milwaukee Art Museum; he established the Loschmidt chair of chemistry at Brno University of Technology in the Czech Republic. Nor does he gloss over the downside of these gifts whose recipients were not above criticising them, nor abusing his generosity. Bader tells these stories warts and all. 

Of course there are many successful examples of his kindness being gratefully received, such as the help he gave the gypsy refugees in Kosovo. Bader escaped from Nazi Austria in 1938 as one of the 10,000 Jewish children admitted to the UK, and so has sympathy with the Roma people who suffered their own holocaust. 

The group which ousted Bader from Sigma-Aldrich has now gone, so once again he is involved with the company. Chemistry & art ends on a high note of 80th birthday celebrations and happy family events. Bader and his wife Isabel look as though they will continue their work and charitable donations and maybe a third, equally fascinating, volume of the autobiography of this remarkable chemist will one day be written. 

Ed: for more information on Alfred Bader see Chemistry in Britain, November 1993, p919.