The stunning art collection at the heart of Norwich’s Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts
- Credit: Archant © 2011
With works by major artists including Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso and Francis Bacon on display alongside art from around the world spanning the last 5,000 years, the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich must be one of the crowning jewels of our region's rich cultural scene.
Housed in an iconic building designed by celebrated architect Lord Norman Foster, the centre offers windows into the world of visual arts through both its permanent and visiting exhibitions.
At its heart is the personal collection of Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury, whose clear eye for the very best artists of their day and whose great appreciation of craftmanship within cultures all around the world led them to amass a unique array of work which is on permanent display.
They gifted their amazing collection to the University of East Anglia so that students and the wider world could enjoy it for free, and their son, David, funded the Sainsbury Centre which will next year celebrate its 40th anniversary.
Head of collections Calvin Winner tells arts correspondent Emma Knights more about the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection by focussing on 12 highlights.
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• Henry Moore - Mother and Child (1932)
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'Henry Moore was the first artist Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury got to know well. They started collecting his work when he was very young and controversial and challenging people's perceptions of art. It is interesting his work does not look like that to us today, but going back to 1930 it did.
'The relationship with the family continued through the years. Henry Moore was the godfather of David Sainsbury, the current Lord Sainsbury.'
• Jacob Epstein - Baby Asleep (1902-1904)
'This is where it [the Sainsbury Centre collection] all began. This is the first sculpture collected in 1929.
'What I like about this is not only is it such a lovely, sensitive piece of sculpture but at this point Epstein was the most controversial artist anywhere.'
• Alberto Giacometti - Head of Isabel II (Isabel Rawsthorne) (1938-1939)
'They met Alberto Giacometti in 1949, and again they were introduced to him and built up a friendship with him and went on to be the most significant collectors of his work in the country. He was well known in 1939 but he certainly was not the major name he is now, with a status as one of the most important artists in the 20th century.'
Head of Isabel II (Isabel Rawsthorne) is one of many Giacometti works in the collection.
• Francis Bacon - Two Figures in a Room (1959)
'They met him in 1955. It's a familar story, Francis Bacon was a very, very controversial artist when they started to collect his work...Opinions about his work are divided up until this present day but nevertheless there is no doubt he is a major artist.
'We have 13 of his paintings, including portraits of Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury. It is one of the biggest public collections of his works and in constant demand. We loan his paintings all over the world.
'Henry Moore and Francis Bacon are the two British artists of the 20th century whose work we loan the most internationally.'
• Edgar Degas - Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1880-1881 - cast c.1922)
'Edgar Degas is one of the most important artists of the late 19th and early 20th century...This is a bronze version of a sculpture which he made in wax. It was really the first sculpture to be exhibited in real clothes. At the time it was quite shocking that Degas had dressed a sculpture.'
• Pablo Picasso - Woman Combing Her Hair (1906)
'We have two very, very important drawings by Pablo Picasso, one of which is a portrait of his first significant girlfriend...I think it is the most sublime drawing...We also have a preparation drawing for a famous painting in New York - Les Demoiselles d'Avignon which is in the Museum of Modern Art.'
• Amedeo Modigliani - Head of a Woman (Anna Zborowska) (1919)
'This portrait is of the wife of a gallery owner who represented his work. His work is important because in the early 20th century he was one of the artists that started to get interested in art from all over the world. He started to look at different ways of representing people. The elogated form was taken from African and Oceanic sculpture.'
• John Davies - Bucket Man (1974)
'I think it is pretty well known as a self portrait of the artist. He was someone again who the Sainsburys met when he was very young. They started to buy his work and support him and now, again, he has an international reputation...It is interesting because we have visitors from all over the world and they normally go straight for the Bacons and the Giacomettis, but for our regional audience it is often Bucket Man that they especially remember.'
• Flame-style deep bowl, Japan, Middle Jomon Period, (c.2500-1500 BC)
'This is a very, very important vessel called a flame pot. It's a national treasure - we have a procession of Japanese scholars who come to see it. It is incredibly early.'
• Hornbill Carving - Northern New Ireland (late 19th century)
'I really like this piece. It is just so inventive. You have the main bird, the hornbill, but when you start to look you see there is also a fish, another fish and a second bird on the top. The more you look at it the more inventive it seems to be.' It is thought to be from a Totenboot (mortuary boat). It would have been mounted on a canoe displayed at the climax of ceremonies honouring the dead.
• Lama effigy - Peru, Inca Culture (AD 1400-1532)
'I think anything linked to Inca culture is seen as romantic. This lama is in a precious material, silver. It's very finely crafted, something like 500 years old.' In Inca culture on state occasions offerings and sacrifices were made at shrines, mountain tops and other sacred places. The Incas buried clothing, food animals and also miniature effigies of llamas and human beings.
• Eccentric Flint - Guatemala, Maya style (AD 600-900)
This is an example of elaborately knapped flints, known as eccentrics because of the diversity of their shapes, recovered from burials in the Maya region.
'It is a flint from a chief's staff and this would have been on the top of it. The way that it has been knapped is incredible, with the detail of the faces.'
Entry to the permanent exhibition of the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection is free. For more information about the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts on the University of East Anglia campus, including opening hours and other exhibitions, visit www.scva.ac.uk