Professor A.G.H. Bachrach: Turner expert and doyen of English literary studies who translated Shakespeare into Dutch

Fred Bachrach, who died just over a week after his 95th birthday, was a Dutch doyen of English literary studies and Anglo-Dutch cultural relations of the 17th century; also, in later life, he was a notable contributor to the interpretation of J.M.W. Turner's work as a painter of marine and Dutch subjects.

Of distinguished profile, ever-neat bearing and rarely ruffled courtesy, Bachrach spoke and wrote impeccable English and three other languages. He was born in Frankfurt in the early weeks of the First World War, his mother German and his father French – a professor of that subject at the university there. The latter's nationality prompted a rapid move to Amsterdam, but German was Bachrach's first language, with Dutch and French the next two. English came fourth, but he took his first degree in it at Amsterdam, with history and fine-art subsidiaries, and in 1941 became senior English master in the grammar school at Samarang, Java, then a Dutch colony.

Already a keen offshore sailor (later both in northern waters and the Mediterranean), he also briefly enjoyed this in the Java Sea before becoming a wartime liaison officer for Dutch East Indian army special forces. He was almost immediately interned by the Japanese; so, separately, were his first wife and infant son. His son died in captivity.

Bachrach passed through six camps, ending in Singapore's notorious Changi jail. Prisoners were only allowed one "holy book", but he managed to assert that his was a complete Shakespeare. This allowed him to teach fellow prisoners to such effect that, when all books were punitively withdrawn, a companion risked his life to steal it back. On liberation in autumn 1945 he weighed only 37kg (80lb), but remained in the Dutch Eastern information service (effectively a spy, he later said, to get back at the Japanese), in Batavia (Jakarta), Singapore and Saigon, until he returned to the Ministry of Overseas Territories at The Hague in 1947.

In 1949-51 his teaching work in captivity earned him a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to study 17th-century English literature at Jesus College, Oxford, and he was the first Dutch national to gain an Oxford D. Phil. in the subject before being appointed a lecturer in English at the Municipal University, Amsterdam (1951). From there he became an extraordinary professor of English literature at Leiden University in 1953, with permanent tenure two years later.

His published work included translation of Shakespeare's sonnets into Dutch and Naar het hem lijk ("As He Liked It", 1957), which he also illustrated, a best-selling book on Shakespeare cast as letters to his friend Samuel Dresden, Leiden's professor of French literature. In 1960, the year his dissertation was jointly published by Oxford and Leiden as Sir Constantine Huygens and Britain, he founded Leiden's Sir Thomas Browne Institute for the Study of Anglo-Dutch Cultural Relations, and was its director until he retired in 1981. The following year Leiden published his edition (with RG Collmer) of the English journal of Lodewyck Huygens, covering the unsuccessful embassy of 1651-52 to prevent the First Anglo-Dutch War.

Bachrach was also dean of the Faculty of Letters in 1966-68 and held other short-term posts and fellowships in Canada (visiting lecturer at Kingston, 1971), as a Fellow of the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies (1972), and at All Souls College, Oxford (1974). After retirement, two visiting professorships, in Holland and America, followed. Leeds University awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1963 and in 1970 he was elected to the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and made an Honorary CBE. His appointment as a Knight of the Order of the Netherlands Lion came in 1980.

Overall, apart from many published papers, Bachrach wrote six books and catalogues and contributed to various others, in both Dutch and English. His more public involvements in England began when he curated "The Orange and the Rose" exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1964. This was followed in 1971 by "Shock of Recognition", on English landscape romanticism and the Dutch 17th-century school, at the Tate and the Mauritshuis gallery in The Hague. A distinguished early member of the Turner Society (est. 1975), in 1982 he became one of its first vice-presidents and its longest-serving active one so far. One of his last, ever-lucid, talks fell on his birthday, and when someone present complimented him on it as his 80th, they were gently reproved: he was, in fact, 90.

In 1986-89 he was president of the Dutch national committee for celebrating William and Mary's accession to the English throne in the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688-89. He was also a leader in the large celebratory Dutch sail-over, with a Dutch royal send-off and involvement, and a reciprocal British welcome, including a reception at St James' Palace hosted by the Prince of Wales.

In 1988 he moved permanently to Twickenham, before his long Dutch second marriage ended in 1990, when he remarried to Harriet Jillings. With her, he continued to enjoy the pleasures of music, writing and painting, though age soon afterwards forced him regretfully (but to friends' great relief) to part with the 31ft Nicholson sloop that he had continued to sail in Dutch waters.

In 1994 his last exhibition project, "Turner's Holland", splendidly combining his Anglo-Dutch and seafaring expertise, was one of the successful early series in Tate's Britain's Clore Gallery, while his last literary essay (2001) was on the 18th-century novelist Ann Radcliffe's Dutch tour. Despite Harriet's devoted support, his recent activities were increasingly limited by failing sight and the onset of fading memory. He bore these and other irritations of venerable antiquity with dignified realism and habitually self-deprecating humour.

Pieter van der Merwe



Alfred Gustave Herbert Bachrach, literary and cultural historian: born Frankfurt 9 December 1914; married 1939 Winifred MacManus (divorced 1945/6; one son deceased), 1947 Catharina Gezina de Vries (divorced 1990, one son, two daughters), 1990 Harriet Jillings; died Isleworth 18 December 2009.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Support Engineer

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Support Engi...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence