The Sainsbury Institute is saddened to announce the death of its benefactor Lady Lisa Sainsbury.
Lady Sainsbury died on 6th February aged 101. It was her vision, and that of her husband Sir Robert, who died in 2000, that led to the establishment of the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures (SISJAC) in 1999.
Sir Robert and Lisa Sainsbury were among the greatest collectors of art and most prominent benefactors of the arts in the United Kingdom in modern times. Their collecting partnership spanned more than sixty years. Their stunning art collection was donated to the University of East Anglia, Norwich in 1973 where it is housed in the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (SCVA), designed by Norman (now Lord) Foster.
Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury at the Sainsbury Centre, April 1985 (photo courtesy Steven Hooper).
In 1997 Lisa and Bob Sainsbury attended an international conference on The Masterpiece in Japanese Art held at the SCVA and, in a subsequent discussion with many of the scholars present, they discovered the gap between Japanese art research in the UK and North America. They became convinced of the importance of creating an advanced research institute for Japanese art and culture studies for the UK. In 1998 they sold their first joint art purchase (the Portrait of Baranowski by Modigliani acquired in 1937) to establish and endow the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures.
In a way that was characteristic of all their benefactions, Lisa and Bob devoted a great deal of time, energy and expertise to the creation of the Sainsbury Institute. Its constitution, its objectives, its premises in the precinct of Norwich Cathedral, its affiliation with UEA, its relationship with the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, its work with the British Museum and the appointment of its founding Director, Dr Nicole Rousmaniere, all bear their hallmark.
Lisa Sainsbury’s devotion to the arts of Japan began in the early 1960s and continued for the rest of her life. After the death of her husband she continued to add works to the collection at the SCVA where Japanese art is now one of the major themes. Japanese religious arts, hanging scrolls and landscapes were among her favourites.
She also continued her enthusiastic support for the Sainsbury Institute. She was a constant source of guidance and encouragement to Nicole Rousmaniere at their regular meetings at Lisa’s home in Dulwich, and Lady Sainsbury’s visits to the Institute’s headquarters in Norwich were always very special occasions for the staff and Fellows of the Sainsbury Institute. Lisa Sainsbury was proud of what the Institute achieved. She was, perhaps, especially pleased with its links with the British Museum, with the Sainsbury Fellowship programme (funded by Lord David Sainsbury’s Gatsby Charitable Trust), with the monthly ‘Third Thursday Lecture Series’ (co-sponsored by the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Charitable Trust) and, above all, with its library.
The Institute’s library was named after Lisa Sainsbury in recognition of her enthusiasm for the project. It was her favourite space in the building and she was a major donor to its collections. She looked forward to seeing the latest acquisitions and was delighted by the decisions of many institutions and scholars from across the world to donate major collections on Japanese art, archaeology, history and cultures to the library. The resources in the Lisa Sainsbury Library in Norwich is considered to be one of the major research collections of its kind in Europe and it stands as a fitting tribute to the vision of Lady Sainsbury.
The University of East Anglia awarded Lady Sainsbury an Honorary Degree in 1990 and an Honorary Fellowship in 2003 in recognition of her remarkable contribution to the University and to the cultural life of the region.
In December 2003 the Japanese Ambassador bestowed on Lady Sainsbury, on behalf of His Majesty the Emperor of Japan, the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon. The decoration was presented in recognition of her lifelong contribution to the promotion of Japanese culture in the United Kingdom and of better understanding between the peoples of the two countries.
Mami Mizutori, Executive Director, Nicole Rousmaniere, Research Director and the staff of the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures.