Session 1, Likes and Dislikes

Our first session at the Sainsbury Centre began with everyone meeting each other in the Studio. There were 23 people in the room, about half people who are joining us for the first time and half who were involved in Living With Me. The link corridor was being painted black in readiness for the Francis Bacon exhibition due to arrive from The Hermitage any moment.

After a break we went upstairs into the Gallery, where Veronica living-area-long-view-pete-hugginsx1182facilitated a conservation about likes and dislikes. We gathered together just inside the entrance, or as Veronica put it, “We’re in Oceania at the moment, near Papua New Guinea.” Then people dispersed to make their choices, alone, then congregating in pairs, then groups of four and ultimately all together to talk about their object choices.

These are images and catalogue entries from the Sainsbury Centre collections database. They are paired Like/Dislike for each person’s choice.



Jizo Bosatsu Buddha. Japan. Kamakura period (1185-1333), late 12th to early 13th century. Wood, metal, glass. h. 36.5 x w. 21 x d. 17 cm. Acquired 2003. Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection. UEA 1255.


Little dancer aged fourteen. Edgar Degas (1834-1917). 1880-81. Bronze, edition unknown, cast c. 1922. h. 99.1 cm. Acquired 1938. Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection. UEA 2



An enraged elephant charging its tormentors in a palace courtyard. India, Rajasthan, Kota. c. 1725-50. Paper, chalk, charcoal, ink. h. 49.8cm. Acquired 1980. Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection. UEA 766



Giacometti, Alberto (1901 – 1966) Standing Woman 1958, France, Bronze, h 130.7 x w 20.0 x d 34.5 cm, UEA 48. © The Estate of Alberto Giacometti (Fondation Giacometti, Paris and ADAGP, Paris), licensed in the UK by ACS and DACS, London 2014.

Giacometti created many elongated standing figures which have been interpreted as reflecting the fragile, precarious state of life in Europe after the Second World War. His male figures are always depicted as moving; his depictions of women are always motionless. Robert and Lisa Sainsbury saw this sculpture in the artist’s studio in its plaster state and convinced Giacometti to have it cast in bronze for them.



The Tree. Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966). France. 1950. Oil. 78.7 x 36.1 cm. Acquired 1951. Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection. UEA 53. ADAGP, PARIS AND DACS, LONDON 2005



Figure of a walking hippopotamus, Dynasty XII (c. 1880 BC) , Egypt , Faience, h 9 x w 18.4 x d 7 cm, 1973, UEA 306.

The Hippopotamus figurine may have served as a talisman to protect the tomb or assist the rebirth of the deceased. It was intended to avert danger, which may be connected to the fact that the hippopotamus was a hazard to the early inhabitants of the Nile Valley, destroying crops and trampling fields.

The plastic qualities of this sculpture owe much to the fact that it was modelled from Egyptian faience, a paste composition of granular quartz, fused with alkali and coloured with a blue-green copper compound.



Maskette. Japan. Final Jomon period (c. 1000-400 B.C.). Earthenware. w 5.1 cm. Acquired 1963. Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection. UEA 279



Hiroshima, Mon Amour. Antonio Saura (1930-1998). France. 1963. Oil on canvas. 133.4 x 165.1 cm. Acquired 1966. Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection. UEA 23. ADAGP, PARIS AND DACS, LONDON 2005

Dislike (this is an object that another person wants to own!)


Mother and Child. Henry Moore (1898-1986). England. 1932. Green Hornton stone, beads. h. 91.4 cm. Acquired 1933. Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection. UEA 82. © The Henry Moore Foundation. The image must not be reproduced or altered without prior consent from the Henry Moore Foundation.

This sculpture is the culmination of Moore’s three year exploration of the mother-and child theme between 1930 and 1932, it was the most demanding sculpture the artist had attempted up until that time. Documentation shows Moore made several changes to the lower half of the sculpture, originally the legs were draped, but the artist abolished the folded drapery, carving a hole in the bench and large heavy legs, balancing the lower half of the sculpture with the mother’s exaggerated shoulder.



Kneeling Figure. F E McWilliam. 1947. Concrete. 162 x 81 x 45.5 cm. UEA 41269. © The Estate of F.E. McWilliam



Seated figure with splayed legs. Central America, Mexico, Puebla: Olmec style. Early Formative period (1200-900 BC). Terracotta, cream slip, red pigment. h. 35.5 cm. Acquired 1978. Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection. UEA 697

Among the more enigmatic works found in both the Gulf Coast and Central Mexico are large hollow figures, often referred to as ‘babies’ because of their facial features and chubby bodies. There is no clear identification of the sex, but at one time these figures may have worn costumes or ornaments of perishable materials which may have suggested gender. The original contexts of figures of this type are unknown.

Conversation about shame, cultural differences, disjunctions – nurturing a baby, a ‘beautiful’ baby, ugly newborns, this not-baby.



Baby carrier. Indonesia, Borneo: Kenyah or Kayan. 19th/20th century. Wood, shell. w. 44.5 cm; h. 35.6 cm. Acquired 1981. Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection. UEA 797



Substitute trophy head. Melanesia, New Guinea, Papuan Gulf. 19th/early 20th century. Wood, cowrie shell. h. 33.0 cm. Acquired 1949. Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection. UEA 153

A couple of other things were flagged up to me, including the following Likes

Female torso, 11th century, Cambodia, Limestone, h 45 x w 33 x d 16 cm, 1973, UEA 276

Originally from a large Buddhist temple site in Cambodia, this is a fragment of a figure, probably of the goddess Lakshmi. The proportions of the figure and very fine carved detail are consistent with that Baphuon style of the 11th century. This torso has always been much admired as an extraordinarily fine example and was one of Robert Sainsbury’s most prized objects.


Buddha ‘Yakushi Nyorai’. Japan. Later Heian to early Kamakura period (12 – 13th century). Bronze. h 16 x w 16 x d 3 cm (box: 7 x 26.5 x 24). Acquired 2001. Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection. UEA 1207 (this object’s back plate is showing a lot of verdigris, so it looks much more greeny turquoise than in this image).


Backstrap from a sword or dagger hilt. India, Rajasthan. Late 17th century. Gilt bronze. h. 12.7 x w. 4.5 cm. Acquired 1982. Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection. UEA 828

Various choices were discussed by the whole group, usually with a range of views about liking, disliking, or feelings that a thing could move from one category to another in a different light, or a different time. For example:


Imaginary Portrait of Phillip II. Antonio Saura (1930-1998). France. 1969. Oil. 69.9 x 49.5 cm. Acquired 1970. Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection. UEA 24. ADAGP, PARIS AND DACS, LONDON 2005

Conversation about echoing real feelings in periods of illness, uncomfortableness, pain. It could be seen as a landscape.



Little Prince. John Davies (b. 1946). England. 1972-73. Mixed media. h. 170.0 cm. Acquired from the artist 1975. Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection. UEA 642. © The Artist, courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art.

Thoughts about a mask, disfigurement, the Saint Exupery Little Prince.

This painting was a focal point, compelling attention and provoking strong Like and Dislike reactions.


Head of Gerda Boehm by Frank Auerbach. UEA 50635. Not on the database, acquired in 2014. The following information comes from the Arts Council’s Acceptant In Lieu entry.

Part of a collection of works by Auerbach given to the nation under the Acceptance in Lieu scheme  (i.e. accepted in lieu of tax) from Lucian Freud’s estate, and allocated to the Sainsbury Centre. According to the Arts Council, who administer the scheme: The seven major portraits in the collection include Head of Gerda Boehm, 1964. This portrait is an outstanding example of the artist’s unique technique which is almost sculptural in its use of thick impasto. The sitter is Auerbach’s cousin, one of a select number of friends and relatives which the artist painted over and over again. For Auerbach, familiarity with the subject enabled a more intuitive way of painting which led to a more expressive and direct encounter.

Some found it intriguing, novel, fascinating, sculptural, knowing. Others saw it as threatening, creepy, sinister, distrustful, secretive, confused, dark, afraid.

I’ve posted these images on a Pinterest site,  Voyage With Me,


An additional Dislike object


Harpoon head. India. Late 3rd or 2nd millenium BC. Copper-arsenic alloy. h. 33.3 x w. 6.3 x d. 2.5 cm. Acquired 1983. Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection. UEA 870.

See Barbara’s comment below.

4 thoughts on “Session 1, Likes and Dislikes”

  1. Hello Laura , Yes the photograph of the Healing Buddha is intriguing . It was in a display case with a smaller version on the right which had two little figures at about 60 degrees and 120 degrees on the 180 degree top semi circle . However, the bigger one on the left with the verdigris just had two holes at 60 and 120 degrees where it’s version of these little figures might have been , but we’re obviously missing . So that makes it even more intriguing ! You have the number correct as UEA 1207 .

    My dislike was the Harpoon Head India , Ganges Valley Late 3rd or 2nd millennium B.C. Made of Copper Aresenic ( yuck ! ) alloy . Acquired in 1983 UEA 870 , quite a contrast from the above , particularly with the backward pointing barbs ! ( Part of me does not like being called Barbara ( barb for short , yuck ! )

    1. Hi Barbara, would be good to have another look at these next Sainsbury Centre visit; they are worthy of close attention. Im adding a picture of your dislike object, that’s a sharp one!

  2. Hi Laura, I came awy thinking I disliked the Auerbach portrait. However as I studied the photo I had taken I found myself liking it more and more. Curious! Perhaps the volume of paint cavorting on the canvas surface interfered with my inital view, as I am prone to expecting a flat surface.

    1. Hi Jacqui
      I saw the portrait, I mean the features of Gerda Boehm, much more clearly in the photos.

      Like our friend John Davies, Auerbach is a Marlborough Fine Art artist. There is going to be a big Tate Britain Auerbach exhibition in October. Do we feel a trip coming on?

      Here’s a long text from a Christie’s catalogue entry for another portrait, sold in 2013 for £657,250.

      “Dignified and deeply felt, Portrait of Gerda Boehm III is an arresting painting of Frank Auerbach’s cousin Gerda Boehm, whom the artist painted on a number of occasions between 1961 and 1982. The brush strokes are vigorous and self-assured, Auerbach’s energetic response to the physical presence of the sitter before him is palpable in the sculptural quality of the thickly applied paint. Eyes averted and gazing intently over her right shoulder, the portrait has a statuesque physical presence that reflects the artist’s close relationship with the sitter, who was the only member of his family that he knew following his flight from Nazi-occupied Germany as a boy. The final in a series that Auerbach painted of Boehm on square canvases over a short period in 1967, this intensely worked portrait is rendered with a reductive palette of monochromes, with a subtle touch of blue. Limiting his palette in this virtuosic manner was a result of his admiration of Dutch old master painters, notably Rembrandt and Frans Hals, and evokes its tender sense of studied familiarity. This self-imposed restraint also emphasizes Auerbach’s remarkable understanding of tone and gives the image its coherence. Strong dark lines carve confidently across the surface of the canvas, delineating the essential features of the sitter while creating a sense of movement and almost abstract dynamism within the composition. The delicate graduations of cool grey intertwine with the variegated texture left by the heavy application of oil paint to give the painting its sculptural modeling. Boehm’s large, downcast eyes have been depicted with particular delicacy, providing a carefully observed contrast to the more flatly applied background, which recedes in favour of the bold diagonals that provide a powerful sense of the solid shape and weight of the head.

      Auerbach has always worked in order to capture vitality from the real world and then translate it on to canvas through the language of paint. A student of St Martin’s School of Art and the Royal College of Art, Frank Auerbach was also taught by David Bomberg, a pupil of Walter Sickert, at night classes at Borough Polytechnic. Highly atmospheric, Portrait of Gerda Boehm III reveals how he has earned his position as heir to Sickert’s mastery of low-toned, quietly dramatic portrayals of everyday life. His brushstrokes are typically inquisitive, urgent and intuitive, resulting in the essential forms that we find in Portrait of Gerda Boehm III as well as the painting’s characteristically layered surfaces. Describing the discovery of this repetitive and distinctive way of capturing an image, Auerbach has said that ‘it seems to me the only way to get something that was both surprising and totally coherent. And so the paint became thicker and thicker, and I didn’t notice it the surface of the paint was eloquent, but it wasn’t eloquent for its own sake… It wasn’t intentional at all. But on the other hand I was quite prepared to let anything happen because I wanted to make something new’ (F. Auerbach, quoted in Frank Auerbach, New York, 2009, p. 231).

      Returning to the same familiar subject time again remains at the heart of Auerbach’s practice, as does choosing a sitter to whom he is personally close. This work is informed by this ritual. When he was eight years old he was sent to England in 1939 by his parents as a refugee from Nazi Germany, and never again saw anyone he had known in his childhood, nor his family, except for Gerda Boehm, ever again. Auerbach would stay with Boehm and her husband during school holidays. This early experience of separation might have fuelled Auerbach’s almost devotional revisiting of the same subject over his career. He is insistent that his portraits are not merely about making a record of a person, time or place. They aspire to more – they are about capturing a meaningful likeness, an attempt to counteract a ‘poignant sense of [a likeness] slipping away’ (F. Auerbach, quoted in C. Lampert et al. (ed.), Frank Auerbach: Paintings and Drawings 1954-2001, London 2001, p. 23).

      Auerbach maintains that being intimately acquainted with the sitter provides more of a challenge, but creates a more powerful painting. ‘The person you’re involved with most, say, is the most complicated to capture because you can’t do a superficial likeness, you can’t do a portrait painter’s impression. You want something that measures up to the amount of feeling you have there. And that’s what all the subjects are for. They’re not there for their own sake; they’re not there for sentimental reasons; they’re there to feed this new, independent image that one’s trying to make, that stalks into the world like a new monster’ (F. Auerbach, quoted in Frank Auerbach, New York, 2009, p. 230).”

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