Sheikh Saud tops world art spending list

Surprise return from 2005 house arrest. By Rob Sharp
Click to follow
The Independent Online

He was one of the world's richest and most secretive art collectors before a dramatic fall from grace. Now Sheikh Saud Al-Thani of Qatar, a member of the Middle Eastern nation's ruling family, has re-emerged after being placed under house arrest over allegations of misusing public funds to be named the biggest spender in the art world.

According to the US publication ARTnews, the world's oldest fine arts magazine, which compiles an annual list of the top 200 art collectors around the globe, Sheikh Saud has spent more on art than any other collector over the last 12 months. The publication's editor, Milton Esterow, told the i that the Sheikh, 44, the second cousin of Qatar's ruling Emir, Sheikh Hamad, had outstripped other collectors "by a significant margin" after spending "several hundred millions of dollars on art in the past two years".

The news has surprised many in the art world years after it looked as if the Sheikh's spending was over. In 2005, he allegedly embezzled millions from his relatives and was placed under house arrest. His return will also raise eyebrows as huge secrecy continues to surround his family's art dealings, with other sources claiming the Emir's daughter, Mayassa Bint Hamad Al Thani, is an equally strong contender to be the world's biggest artistic spender.

"We have conducted interviews with some of the most knowledgeable dealers and auctioneers in the world, including the US and Europe," said Esterow. "Obviously he is passionate about art." According to the publication, which interviewed dozens of experts in 22 countries to compile its research, Sheikh Saud, has been buying up huge amounts of photography, Islamic art and fine jewellry.

The Sheikh rose to prominence after he spent nearly £1bn on art between 1996 and 2004. In 2000, he splashed out more than £9m on 136 vintage photographs, including great works by Man Ray and Alfred Stieglitz from the collection of Hamburg photographer Werner Bokelberg. Other prominent purchases during this time include a £5m Fabergé egg bought at Christie's in New York in 2002, a £4.6m complete set of rare book Audubon's Birds of America, and a £7.9m Roman marble statue, the Jenkins Venus.

In 2003 he beat London's V&A to purchase the £3m Clive of India flask. "Sheikh Saud was a passionate art collector with a great eye," said Georgi-na Adam, editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper.

Following his house arrest in 2005, the sheikh was sacked from Qatar's national culture council. However, within a year he was spotted at auctions again.

In 2008, he bought 90 per cent of the lots at a sale of Chinese art at Christie's and, last month, was spotted at the European Fine Art Fair.