Maritime Museum donor is one of world’s biggest impressionist buyers

LONDON. An Israeli shipping magnate who once served in the Royal Navy has given the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, its largest ever gift. Sammy Ofer donated £20m to the museum at the end of March. Mr Ofer is one of the most active collectors of impressionism and early modern art in the world.

Mr Ofer’s support represents one of the largest single donations by an individual to a cultural project in the UK. The money will be used to help build a new £35m wing, which will have a temporary exhibition gallery and other public facilities. There will also be a new entrance on Green­wich Park. The project is due for completion in 2012, for the London Olympics.

Mr Ofer, who is Israeli, was born in Romania in 1922, but served with the Royal Navy during World War II. His wealth comes from international shipping, and he has also diversified into cruise liners, oil, chemicals and banking. Mr Ofer is the wealthiest man in Israel, and is also based in Monaco.

His art collection is spectacular. Mr Ofer is reputed to have bought Van Gogh’s 1890 painting, L’Arlésienne, for $40m in May 2006.

Picasso is another favourite, and that same month he was said to be the underbidder on the portrait of Dora Maar which sold for $95m.

He also has the world’s finest private collection of Chagalls. Two years ago Mr Ofer withdrew a $20m gift to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, after other donors complained about plans to change the museum’s name in his honour.

Martin Bailey

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