Sainsbury's wedding present to fund Japanese cultural studies in East Anglia

Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury sell major Modigliani


Veteran collectors, Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury, are selling a painting by Modigliani to raise funds to establish a unit for Japanese cultural studies at East Anglia University. The painting was purchased for £1,000 as a mutual wedding present more than 60 years ago. It is estimated to make £4m-$6m in Sotheby’s London Impressionist and Modern Art sale on 30 June.

The painting, a very fine example of the artist’s work, is of a young Polish emigré called Baranowski about whom little is known. Only two years later, aged thirty-six, Modigliani had drunk himself to death. It was one of the first works acquired by the Sainsbury’s, their collection now covers pre-Colombian, Egyptian, African, Native American and Japanese works of art as well as nineteenth- and twentieth-century paintings and sculpture. Particular favourites are Giacometti, Francis Bacon and Henry Moore. Japanese culture is an area of particular interest to the Sainsbury’s and one in which they are still actively collecting.

Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury are already major benefactors of the University of East Anglia. In 1973, they gave most of their collection, some 3,000 works of art, to the university.

In 1978 the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, designed by Norman Foster and paid for by the Sainsburys was opened to house the collection and the Mondigliani has been housed here. Another wing to provide a temporary exhibition space and to house the administration and conservation departments, and the reserve collection was opened in 1991.

Of their decision to sell the portrait, Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll, adviser to the Sainsbury Collection and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia said, “It is immensely generous of Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury to create the means to fund this new unit. It will complement their existing Research Unit for the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas and provide a tremendous boost to the study of Japanese culture in this country.”

• Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper under the headline "What a wonderful wedding present"