Sheikh Saud Al-Thani of Qatar buys nearly all lots at Chinese art sale

LONDON. Sheikh Saud Al-Thani, cousin of the ruling Emir of Qatar and once one of the world’s biggest art buyers, is still collecting art voraciously. Seated in the front of Sotheby’s London saleroom at an auction of early Chinese gold and silver on 14 May, the art-hungry Sheikh purchased some 90% of the pieces on offer. The works, which had belonged to the Swedish paper tycoon and one-time tennis champion Dr Johan Carl Kempe, made a total of £9.3m ($18.3m), four times pre-sale expectations.

Sheikh Saud was signalling his bids to a Sotheby’s staffer on the telephone with paddle number L090. However he failed to acquire the top lot in the sale, an eighth/ninth-century Tang dynasty parcel-gilt bowl and cover, which smashed its estimate of £300,000-£400,000 and sold for £1.59m, going to the London dealer Eskenazi.

During an eight-year spending spree on art which ended in 2005 with his arrest for alleged misappropriation of State funds, Sheikh Saud collected in a broad range of fields, including Egyptian art, Islamic art, photography, natural history and antiquities. However he was not known to have bought Chinese art in any depth at that time. It is believed that he is now buying for himself, and not for any state museums, which now come under the Qatar Museums Association. This body recently appointed Roger Mandle, who is stepping down as president of the Rhode Island School of Design on 31 July, as its director.

Georgina Adam

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