Port Talbot's least famous son to sell Gulf war paintings for £17m

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A Welsh portraitist is close to selling a series of 125 paintings of the Gulf War to a member of the Saudi Royal Family for the princely sum of £17m.

A Welsh portraitist is close to selling a series of 125 paintings of the Gulf War to a member of the Saudi Royal Family for the princely sum of £17m.

Andrew Vicari, originally from Port Talbot, is finalising a deal with Prince Khaled Bin Sultan, the Saudi commander of joint forces during the Gulf conflict, to sell the 35ft-long canvases for $25m.

The paintings, currently lying in a warehouse in Nice, near Mr Vicari's home in Monaco, are intended for a new museum in Riyadh, which is being built to commemorate the war that began nearly 10 years ago.

The works are based on Mr Vicari's first-hand observations of the war and feature battle scenes and portraits of the main characters on the Allied side, such as General Norman Schwartzkopf and General Sir Peter de la Billiere.

But the commission has caused immense controversy in the Islamic world. In 1997, Iran sought to buy the collection in order to destroy it because the portraits break an Islamic ban on representing living beings in art.

Despite achieving what is thought to be the highest price for the work of a living artist, Mr Vicari, 62, remains little known in Britain.

His only official recognition here was winning a gold medal for painting at the Welsh national eisteddfod when he was 12. He is, however, regarded as a leading portrait painter among the world's élite, and is the official portrait artist to the Saudi Royal Family. His subjects have included the former French president Francois Mitterrand, the Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Tse-tung, Sophia Loren and Prince Rainier of Monaco.

Among his recent clients is Jonathan Aitken, the disgraced former Tory MP and defence minister whose close ties to another Saudi prince came to light during a failed libel action over claims that he wrongly took commissions for arms deals.

Reports last month suggested that Mr Vicari's deal with Prince Khaled Bin Sultan had fallen through, leaving Mr Vicari with most of the canvases and a substantial storage and security bill. The prince apparently ended the deal in 1992 and paid the artist several million dollars in compensation.

But Mr Vicari, in Britain this week to see friends and family, said yesterday he believed the deal would go through. "It's not signed yet, but it is my great hope that it will be soon," he said. "The money will not change me. I was already very well paid for my art before this. Being in a war is an extraordinary experience and it is something that money cannot buy... you do not do it for that."

Comments