Auction of donated Picasso painting provides a massive boost to The University of Sydney’s capital campaign, reports Greg Johnson.

Fundraising for a $385 million medical research centre at The University of Sydney has received a significant boost, after a painting donated by an anonymous American donor raised $20.6 million at auction. The university’s vice chancellor Dr Michael Spence, who travelled to London for the auction, described the donation as being extraordinarily generous.

“The sale of this remarkable work is the result of one donor’s extraordinary generosity. The donor said ‘this painting is going to change the lives of many people’, and he was right,” said Dr. Spence. “We are grateful for their extraordinary generosity and delighted with the outcome of the auction.”

Like a plot from a Hollywood film, the unknown donor flew to Australia with the painting in – would you believe – their hand luggage. It was one of 10 paintings and some jewellery the generous donor presented to the university from their private collection.

The auctioned painting, Jeune fille endormie, is one of Pablo Picasso’s least displayed works. It has been held in private collections and not shown since 1941, when it was owned by Chrysler founder Walter P Chrysler Jr. A portrait of Picasso’s lover Marie-Thérèse Walter, it was expected to raise $18 million when auctioned at Christie’s in London last month but, to the delight of the university, significantly exceeded expectations.

As a legally binding condition of the donation, the painting’s generous owner specified that the work be sold, with proceeds going towards an unspecified scientific research cause. After months of planning, the auction opened with a bid of £7 million and it took less than two minutes for bidding to rise and the hammer to fall at £13.5 million (AU$20.6 million).

It’s a good reminder that donations don’t have to be monetary in order to make a big difference.

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