Picasso pays off for Sydney research

June 22, 2011

The Picasso masterpiece gifted to the University of Sydney by a mysterious donor has raised over £13 million for the institution's research after being sold at auction.

The painting, Jeune fille endormie, a portrait of Picasso's muse and lover Marie-Thérèse Walter, sold for £13.5 million at Christie’s in London last night.

An anonymous American donor gave the painting to Sydney around 18 months ago on the condition that it was sold to fund scientific research.

Michael Spence, Sydney vice-chancellor, said: "We are grateful for [the donor's] extraordinary generosity and delighted with the outcome of the auction."

The funds raised will be spent on endowed chairs across several disciplines and support the establishment of Sydney's Centre for Obesity, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease.

Dr Spence said it would be the only multidisciplinary centre in the field to bring together academics from numerous disciplines, "from philosophers to dieticians, from economists to psychologists, all whom bring a different perspective to this international problem."

Joanna Motion, vice-president international operations for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, said it was unusual for a benefactor to ask for a donation of art work to be sold.

Ms Motion said she did not know whether the donation was made as an artwork for tax reasons, but added that may have been one way to maximise the amount received by the university. "I'm sure there will have been discussions asking, 'How do we achieve most effectively what we want to achieve?'"

The money raised falls short of being the biggest donation ever given to an Australian university, coming behind the A$25 million (£16.3 million) gift to the University of Technology Sydney last year from Chinese business leader Chau Chak Wing.

It also fell short of being Christie’s highest selling lot of the night. That accolade went to another Picasso, a portrait of Dora Maar unseen since 1967, which sold for £18 million.

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