John Sainsbury, Baron Sainsbury of Preston Candover, KG (1927-2022), best-known as the former Chairman of one of the UK’s largest supermarket chains, has died aged 94. He was a keen art collector and an influential advocate for the Contemporary Art Society, making a significant contribution to the organisation personally as well as through Sainsbury’s.
Lord Sainsbury and his wife of nearly 60 years, Anya Linden CBE, set up The Linbury Trust in 1973 which gifted over 30 works of art to regional museums and galleries through the Contemporary Art Society throughout the 70s and 80s, including works by Anthony Caro and Craigie Aitchison. Lord Sainsbury was a private subscriber to the Contemporary Art Society from 1957, along with his uncle, Sir Robert Sainsbury (1906-2000), who had set up a discretionary fund for the CAS to acquire paintings by Francis Bacon for the nation at a time when institutional support was scant for the artist.
Lord Sainsbury became a CAS Executive Committee Member in 1958 and continued in that role until 1974. In company with Alan Bowness and Bryan Robertson, he was a member of the sub-committee who organised the CAS’s ground-breaking two-venue exhibition ‘British Painting in the Sixties’. Staged simultaneously at the Tate and Whitechapel Galleries in 1963, the exhibition included works by established figures such as Lucian Freud and Graham Sutherland, as well as major works by the upcoming generation, represented by the likes of David Hockney, Gillian Ayres, Howard Hodgkin and Peter Blake. He was twice a designated buyer for the CAS of paintings and sculpture, both figurative and abstract, in 1961 and 1970. He acted as the Honorary Secretary (1964-1971); Vice Chairman (1971-73); Vice President, including over the period the CAS celebrated its 75th Anniversary (1984-1996) until a change in the structure of the organisation under the directorship of Gill Hedley when he became Vice Patron (alongside his wife as ever, and Bryan Ferry, amongst others) from 2000 to 2010.
Lord Sainsbury’s involvement with the CAS encouraged largesse from other family members, including his parents, and thereafter his younger brother, Tim Sainsbury. Sainsbury family support also extended to corporate membership from J. Sainsbury Ltd/plc in the late 1970s/early 1980s who, with their retail acumen and with John as art adviser, sponsored the successful CAS Art Markets – whereby young artists were asked to contribute their works for sale – for over a decade. Lord Sainsbury will be remembered with great affection by the Contemporary Art Society and the public art world for his remarkable generosity of spirit and commitment to the arts in this country.