Steven’s choice: Pro­fes­sor picks his Sains­bury Cen­tre favourites

As the Sains­bury Cen­tre for Vis­ual Arts in Nor­wich cel­e­brates 40 years, Pro­fes­sor Steven Hooper re­veals his favourites from the amaz­ing col­lec­tion

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Steven Hooper Š PHO­TOS: James Austin

Ifirst be­came aware of the Sains­bury Col­lec­tion in 1972 when I was in­vited to din­ner at Sir Robert and Lady Sains­bury’s house in Lon­don (they pre­ferred to be known as Bob and Lisa). It was not a large house and ev­ery­where you looked there were won­der­ful trea­sures on dis­play. Choos­ing seven high­lights from the col­lec­tion is a near im­pos­si­ble task, but I have se­lected pieces which had a ma­jor im­pact on me in 1972 and sub­se­quently dur­ing a life­time of in­volve­ment with the col­lec­tion, par­tic­u­larly since the Sains­bury Cen­tre opened at UEA in 1978.

Bob Sains­bury first met Henry Moore in 1933 when he bought the large stone sculp­ture, Mother and Child, for £158. This, one

‘Choos­ing seven from the col­lec­tion is a near im­pos­si­ble task’

of Moore’s sem­i­nal early di­rect carv­ings, greeted vis­i­tors to the Sains­burys’ house from an al­cove within the curv­ing stair­case in the hall. How­ever, the work by Moore I would like to high­light is one of his Shel­ter Draw­ings, made as a war artist in 1940 dur­ing the blitz . This sen­si­tively evokes the trauma of those times through an in­ti­mate, al­most sculp­tural, com­po­si­tion. When vis­it­ing Moore in the early 1980s I re­call him ex­plain­ing in his bright imp­ish way how, in or­der not to ap­pear voyeuris­tic, he would ob­serve a fam­ily group sleep­ing on the Un­der­ground plat­form and then slip round the cor­ner to make sketches.

In the sit­ting room, placed next to Bob and Lisa’s chairs on ei­ther side of the fire­place, were two favourite sculp­tures – the Kh­mer torso and the Fang head. The lat­ter was Bob’s first ‘tribal art’ ac­qui­si­tion, in 1935, which he had seen in Paris and which had opened his eyes to the glo­ries of African sculp­ture – now much lauded but then re­garded as rub­bish by the Bri­tish art es­tab­lish­ment. The Kh­mer torso had been ad­mired by Bob and Lisa when in the Eu­mor­fopou­los Col­lec­tion and they were able to buy it at auc­tion in 1940, when prices were de­pressed. It is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that most of the great works in the col­lec­tion – the Moores, Gi­a­comet­tis, Ba­cons, Pi­cas­sos, Modiglia­nis and the ‘tribal’ works – were ac­quired on a lim­ited bud­get. Bob and Lisa were not buy­ing for in­vest­ment

but to please them­selves, and could only af­ford un­fash­ion­able things which had yet to be taken se­ri­ously by most of the art world. How times change. In the 1950s, Fran­cis Ba­con paint­ings were stacked up against the wall of Erica Brausen’s Lon­don gallery, with no one will­ing to buy them at £200-300 each. There are 13 Ba­cons in the Sains­bury Col­lec­tion, sev­eral of them ac­quired as gifts. The Ba­con I have cho­sen used to hang on the up­stairs land­ing – a por­trait of Bob com­mis­sioned in 1955 by Lisa, about which the chil­dren used to say, “But Daddy, you’ve got no shoul­ders!”

In Bob’s bed­room stood three great Poly­ne­sian sculp­tures, in­clud­ing the re­mark­able Raro­ton­gan staff god head from the Cook Is­lands , orig­i­nally brought to Eng­land in the 1820s by Christian mis­sion­ar­ies. Next to the bed was a long dis­play cabi­net with a flip-up per­spex lid – chris­tened by the chil­dren the ‘toy depart­ment’ – which held a row of small sculp­tures from all over the world. Reg­u­larly re­ar­rang­ing th­ese was Bob’s par­tic­u­lar de­light. The lit­tle jade Olmec head was among them, made from the most beau­ti­ful blue-green stone. He once took it to show Henry Moore, ask­ing him to close his eyes be­fore plac­ing it in his palm. “It must be Chi­nese”, said Henry, who, although wrong, was im­me­di­ately en­chanted when he saw it.

The antler comb in the form of a bird from North Amer­ica was a later pur­chase, in 1983, and shows the in­ter­est in an­i­mal as well as hu­man forms which is ev­i­dent through­out the col­lec­tion. Bob and Lisa have left to UEA, and to the na­tion, an as­ton­ish­ing legacy of in­spi­ra­tional trea­sures from all over the world – free for any­one to see and en­joy in the Sains­bury Cen­tre on the UEA cam­pus.

Steven Hooper is Pro­fes­sor of Vis­ual Arts and Di­rec­tor of the Sains­bury Re­search Unit for the Arts of Africa, Ocea­nia & the Amer­i­cas at the Univer­sity of East Anglia. He was ed­i­tor of the three-vol­ume Cat­a­logue of the Robert and Lisa Sains­bury Col­lec­tion (Yale Univer­sity Press, 1997).

The Sains­bury Cen­tre is open Tue – Sun. Ad­mis­sion to the Per­ma­nent Col­lec­tion is free and tick­eted tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tions run through­out the year. Visit or call 01603 593199.

Fran­cis Ba­con, Por­trait of R. J. Sains­bury, 1955, 114.9 x 99.1cm. © The Es­tate of Fran­cis Ba­con. All rights re­served. DACS 2018

ABOVE: Henry Moore, Sleep­ing Shel­ter­ers: Two Women and aChild, 1940, 27.9 x 46.0cm. UEA 93. Robert and Lisa Sains­bury Col­lec­tion. Re­pro­duced by per­mis­sion of The Henry Moore Foun­da­tionRIGHT: Fe­male torso, 11th cen­tury. Kh­mer, Cam­bo­dia

Reli­quary head, late 19th cen­tury, Fang peo­ple, Gabon, Africa

Small jade head, 900-600 BC, Olmec cul­ture, Tabasco, Mex­ico

Pro­fes­sor Steven Hooper

ABOVE (L-R): Antler comb, late 18th cen­tury, Tlin­git peo­ple, South­ern Alaska, North Amer­ica; Head of a staff god, c. 1850-1950, Raro­tonga, Cook Is­lands

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