UNITED NATIONS. WORLD'S BIGGEST ART COLLECTOR

 

15 NOVEMBER 2014

WORLD'S BIGGEST ART COLLECTOR

Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed bin Ali Al-Thani (1966-2014), who died in London November 14 at the age of 48, was obsessed with seeking artistic valuables and maintaining a natural environment. He was a cultured thoughtful man who may have had a heart failure due to frustration at not being officially entrusted any more with fully pursuing his passion for rare unique art.

For almost a decade, Sheikh Saud was the biggest buyer of art in the world. As Minister of Culture, he pulled together an impressive and diverse inventory for five museums. Bidding anonymously at auction, from the late 1990s, he selected rare items -- overwhelming any competition. The Qatari royal amassed an array of items from a Faberge egg to the Clive of India Flask to the masterpiece book, Birds of America by James John Audubon.

When he had to leave his official function, he was able to keep his interest, though with less assets in hand. Yet he kept his dignity as a member of the ruling family, whose uncle, Sheikh Ahmed, ruled Qatar from 1960 for 12 years.

Qatar put some of his gallery projects on hold. But the National Museum, designed by France's Jean Nouvel, is set for a 2016 debut; the Museum of Islamic Art, by the Chinese-American architect IM Pei, and exhibiting much of what Saud had accumulated, opened in 2008.

Sheikh Saud studied in Doha and Beirut, his father's holiday home where he started a rare stamp collection at the age of 13. When assigned to establish Qatar's cultural credentials abroad in the 1990s, he had an unlimited budget and began securing varied pieces from Egyptian antiquities to a carved bowl from the third century to modern European art.

A regular visitor to Monte Carlo, Sheikh Saud habitually gave away small presents to curious tourist kids, mentioning the name of his country to gain their recognition. He also enjoyed showing his latest acquisitions in stealth before hiding them away. He made friends with the same enthusiasm as seeking cultural ties. Saud was known to entertain visitors at his "family farm," Al Wabra, a breeding and research centre he established for endangered wildlife with an emphasis on antelopes and gazelles.

May his soul rest in peace.