The most remarkable things get recorded in a letter. A short note to a friend can say little but mean everything. This exhibition invites you into the friendship which in so many ways shaped the inspiring collection and iconic building that comprises the Sainsbury Centre, that of Sir Robert Sainsbury and Lisa, Lady Sainsbury and the great Modernist artist Henry Moore.
On display for the first time, the show features a selection of personal correspondence between the Sainsburys and Moore, including letters, postcards, photographs and an audio recording, carefully preserved in the Sainsbury Research Unit Archive since its donation to the University. Both high-profile public figures, the correspondence reveals the humble nature of Robert and Henry and their families; in one postcard Moore hints at his glee at being away from the parties thrown for him by the Tate Gallery, the men quip about the trials of shaving, and Sainsbury delightedly supplies his friend with the latest school report of his son David, who was also Moore’s godson.
What began as a simple exchange between patron and artist developed into an important relationship which lasted over fifty years. Acting as a window onto the rest of the collection, the correspondence demonstrates the way in which the Sainsburys’ taste in art developed with the aid of Moore, embracing the beauty of world art, and establishing one of Britain’s most exciting University museums.
Friendship in the beginning
The relationship between Sir Robert Sainsbury and Henry Moore began with an act of patronage, akin to the many others that formed the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury collection of the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts. It was at Moore’s third solo show in 1933 that Sainsbury purchased Mother and Child and in a spirit of celebration, the two men went to lunch. For Moore, the sale represented half of his salary for that entire year, and for Sainsbury, the most he had ever spent on his passion for art to date. This was the start of a fifty year friendship in which Moore was to become important to the lives of Robert and Lisa Sainsbury, both artistically and personally.
A transnational friendship
Moore was one of the first truly international artists, jetting across Europe and America to open exhibitions of his own works and relax on continental holidays from the late 1940s. The Sainsburys could expect a postcard from Moore and his wife Irina each year, and a particular favourite holiday spot for the family became Forte dei Marmi, a seaside town in northern Tuscany. After visiting the stone quarries of Forte dei Marmi several times, Henry and Irina bought a cottage there in 1965 and from then on it became customary for the Moores to send an annual postcard ‘with love’ from Italy.
Friendship in the press
Two years after Moore’s death in 1988, Channel 4 broadcast England’s Henry Moore, a documentary portraying Moore in a less than flattering light. Robert Sainsbury was so outraged by this public discrediting of his friend that he wrote a letter to the editor of the Times, published on 24th September 1988. Numerous people wrote in thanks to Sir Robert, agreeing that the programme presented an unfair picture of the late artist, but what prevails from this controversy is the exchange between Sir Robert and Irina Moore. True to the austere life that Irina and Henry lived, she replied simply: ‘I watched the film but did not like it… Thank you for writing to me’.
The building of friendships
When Sir Robert and Lisa Sainsbury began collecting art, they displayed it proudly around their house in Smith Square, London. But as time progressed and their collection grew they decided that it could be better housed in a public building where it could be used for study and appreciated by all. They chose the University of East Anglia, and the then little known architect Norman Foster to create the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts. Those sculptures created by Moore became some of the central axes around which the Sainsburys’ large collection would fit. Moore was consulted in placing the large outdoor sculptures that still surround the Centre, and is featured prominently in the publications made for the opening of the Centre and in the Anglia Television documentary The Gift.