We at the Milwaukee Art Museum were deeply saddened to learn of the recent passing of Isabel Bader, a loss that is greatly felt within our Museum family. A longtime patron and friend of the Museum, Isabel was known for her remarkable passion and steadfast commitment to the arts, which had a profound impact on our institution and our community. For decades the Museum has benefited from the boundless generosity and invaluable support of Isabel, her late husband Dr. Alfred Bader, and the Bader Family’s charitable foundation, Bader Philanthropies, Inc.
The Baders’ legacy of philanthropic work has left an indelible mark on our Museum. Isabel, in partnership with Alfred, was committed to channeling her love of the arts to enrich the community of Milwaukee. During the Baders’ over-60-year philanthropic relationship with the Milwaukee Art Museum, which Isabel joined in upon her marriage to Alfred in 1982, they donated more than 40 important works of art, significantly expanding our holdings of Dutch and Flemish 17th century paintings. This patronage continued in recent years with gifts of seminal paintings by Jacopo Vignali, Onofrio Gabrielli, and, most recently, a moving image of Saint Bartholomew by a Rembrandt School artist. The Baders’ generosity also extended to contributing important loans to exhibitions here at the Museum, such as Jan Lievens: A Dutch Master Rediscovered (2009), The Bloemaert Legacy (2014), and From Rembrandt to Parmigianino (2016).
In 1989, Isabel and Alfred worked together to guest curate The Detective’s Eye: Investigating the Old Masters, just one example of the couple’s deep commitment to the Museum’s role as an important educational resource. This exhibition brought the Baders’ deep appreciation for art to the fore, focusing on teaching visitors how to truly “see” artworks and how to recognize the potential in a work of art. Isabel and Alfred developed the exhibition to highlight the role of collectors, curators, and conservators and the many steps they undertake to fully understand each individual piece they encounter. This project reflected Isabel and Alfred’s belief in the critical importance of research and connoisseurship and their equal dedication to opening the world of collecting to the public. It is in this commitment to teaching that Isabel’s voice truly shines through.
In 2013, the Baders made the generous decision to support the newly created position of Isabel and Alfred Bader Curator of European Art, thus ensuring that the acquisition, care, interpretation, and research of European art would continue at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Tanya Paul, who is the inaugural Bader curator, is only the second dedicated curator of European art in the Museum’s history. The Baders were renowned for their passion for European art, and it was profoundly important to them that the institution have a permanent curator in place to care for this collection and carry on the crucial work of informing, educating, and inspiring the public with its holdings.
“Isabel Bader was an extraordinary person and a true force who cared deeply about giving back to and enriching her community,” shares Tanya Paul. “She had this amazing ability to connect with people. She was intelligent, quick-witted, and incredibly kind, and she was deeply engaged and generous in her support of the Museum. As passionate about social justice as she was about the arts, Isabel recognized education as a powerful tool for improving the quality of life for people of all ages and backgrounds. Her legacy of giving to the Museum reflects her belief in the fundamental importance of sustaining and increasing access to the arts. I feel a deep sense of honor and responsibility in holding the position of European curator that bears Isabel and Alfred’s names and in carrying forward the legacy they have left to the community. Their generosity was truly unmatched and is something for which they will be remembered and celebrated by the Museum and the people of Milwaukee.”
Isabel remained dedicated to those causes dear to her up until the time of her passing. Having started her career as a teacher, she believed in the power of art to inspire and educate, and saw her gifts to the Museum as a way to increase our community’s ability to engage with and learn about significant works of art. She championed art conservation and scholarly research, not just focused on the areas of art history represented in the Baders’ personal collection, but also for less-studied fields such as textiles and Indigenous arts. Isabel was an outspoken advocate for emerging and underrepresented artists, giving a voice to creative talents whose practices might otherwise have gone unrecognized or unexplored.
Isabel Bader had a profound and lasting impact on the Milwaukee Art Museum, its people, and our community, and we are forever grateful for her generosity, passion, and care. Her legacy lives on through the exhibitions, scholarship, and programming her giving has made possible, which our visitors will continue to enjoy for years to come. I, along with the entire Museum, extend my heartfelt sympathies to her extended family and friends.
Marcelle Polednik, PhD
Donna and Donald Baumgartner Director