About Virginia

Virginia Bader

Virginia Forman married Franz Bader in 1971. Photograph: Southall

They were an unexpected but perfect match. He, outgoing, intuitive, a dumpling of a man past middle age; she, perhaps not shy but not outgoing either, tall and willowy, and not yet in her middle years. But they were matched in intellectual curiosity, in social conscience, and in some odd way, they were perfectly complementary.

Virginia was orphaned as a child and raised in boarding schools. She had a scholarly turn of mind. The marriage of Franz and Virginia in 1971 at the home of Mrs. Harold Ickes, widow of the great New Deal Secretary of Interior, brought together a remarkable aggregation of people, sharing interests but ranging high and low in the spectrum of fame and fortune.

This wedding party seemed to go on and on, meeting a dozen or more times a year, until in time it became a Washington artistic and intellectual salon like no other. It was a salon that did not seem to age. Over the years, the number of us who drew sustenance from the Baders increased until the very end, a widening circle. We all regret its passing and do not expect to see its like again. Surprisingly, since Virginia was the more retiring marriage partner, it was she who brought Franz out into the new interests and pursuits that enriched his last years. Franz’s photography blossomed. Franz photographed the moon shots at Cape Kennedy. Virginia hired a balloon for Franz on his eightieth birthday so he could ascend to make photographs of the fall foliage.

Together, they traveled the world, Virginia making the plans and keeping detailed records, and Franz using his eyes trained in a lifetime of art, to capture each new impression: elephants at sundown in an African water hole; a backcountry river in Belize; mists in the Maritime Provinces of Canada; exquisite light and shadow on buildings of the Greek islands; tile-work in Tashkent; landscapes in China; and even pictures as simple as a Baltimore street scene reflected and distorted in a glass-walled hotel. These are images conjured up by Virginia and captured by Franz that will ever invest our memories.

As Franz grew older, he felt the need to have something continue on after him, and that was his vision of the aesthetic riches that could be found in the places that too few people looked. It was for this, that he and Virginia decided to establish a fund to help older artists to bring their gifts to the world.

Franz died in 1994 and Virginia died in 2001. Curious to the last, Virginia was packing for a trip to London when she succumbed. Nevertheless, as long as any of us remain who had the great fortune to play a small part in the lives of Virginia and Franz Bader, they will still be very much alive.

Washington, with its many museums, has long been a final resting place for great art, but before the Bader Gallery, the city took little part in artistic creation. Those with long memories have seen how Franz, after his arrival in Washington more than sixty years ago, changed the city in a very real way. Once there were no commercial art galleries, and now there are many.

Once, few serious artists lived and worked in our city and those who did relied upon the emerging galleries of New York to bring their work to the public. Franz changed all that. More than anyone else, Franz made it possible for artists to live and create and to draw strength from one another without leaving Washington. For the ordinary citizen, the Bader Gallery and those that were to follow, made it possible to see new directions in creativity before art has been examined, weighed, and found acceptable by museum curators.

Richard Conroy