After a tumultuous decade, one of the world’s most prolific art collectors, Sheikh Saud bin Mohammad Al Thani, has died at the age of 48.
Al Thani, a former culture minister in Qatar, was in his London home at the time of his death on Sunday, Qatar Museums confirmed to Doha News. It is unclear how he died.
A decade ago, Sheikh Saud was considered one of the world’s biggest art buyers, reportedly spending more than $24 million in a single week at auction houses in London.
According to Artnet News, many of the former official’s purchases are now on display at museums around the country.
The publication states:
“His collection makes up the bulk of holdings in five existing and planned museums: the Museum of Islamic Art, the National Library, the Natural History Museum, a Photography Museum, and a museum for traditional textiles and clothing.”
Sheikh Saud was also the owner of Qatar’s Al Wabra Wildlife Center, which is home to roughly three-quarters of the world’s 90 or so Spix’s macaw.
He inherited a hobby farm outside Al Shahaniyah from his father and began hiring scientific staff to turn it into the Al Wabra Wildlife Center in 1998-99.
The center is not open to the public, but had been expanding its outreach efforts and has started working with local schools. It employs some 200 staff, including 50 animal professionals, and is home to some 2,100 animals belonging to 90 species, including antelopes, sand cats and various birds of paradise.
This makes it unlike a zoo, which typically strives to give guests variety by having a wide range of species, but only a few of each kind.
In 2005, Sheikh Saud disappeared from view over allegations of misusing public funds in Qatar. Six years later, he was reported to have emerged from house arrest here after being cleared of all charges.
According to international media reports, he continued his big art spending sprees, to the tune of several hundred millions of dollars from 2009 to 2011.
A year later, Sheikh Saud began facing legal trouble in the UK, when a court ruled to freeze $15 million of his assets at the request of coin dealers suing him for an unpaid debt.
But the former Qatari official’s lawyers said he had been trying to pay for the coins – worth nearly $20 million – for months.
During the November 2012 court hearings, the coin dealers’ lawyer asserted that Sheikh Saud was a “serial defaulter” who had accumulated some $60 million in debt to auction houses, including a $42 million payment owed to Sotheby’s.
But a month prior to the court case, Sotheby’s disclosed in financial statements that Sheikh Saud had pledged the world’s most expensive watch and other artworks worth almost $83 million to cover what he owed them.
That watch – the Graves Supercomplication – goes on sale today at a Sotheby’s auction in Geneva.
The 80-year-old pocket watch is estimated to go for at least $15.6 million, according to Fortune magazine.
UPDATE: The watch sold for a record-breaking $24 million, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Note: This article has been updated to include information about Sheikh Saud’s role in the Al Wabra Wildlife Center.
Before his fall from grace, Shk Saoud was one of the world’s largest collectors. He is rumored to have very rare specimens of dinosaur bones, rare blue Brazilian patriots, where he set up a program to breed them, rare historic books on biology and geology and even one of the world’s most expansive collection of coins and stamps. Some even say he has pieces of Roman ruins brought in from Jordan and Syria.
I remember in the late 90’s people were always talking about his latest collection piece. But unlike many other in the region he kept his collection very secret and would rarely advertise his purchases. He was a true collector with a deep appreciation of the pieces he acquired. And would rarely show them. This is why many rumors of his collection probably would never be confirmed.
In the early 2000’s the Emir father, then head of state, and his first cousin, put him in charge of building the state’s art collection which would later be used in Qatar’s museums. This means he got access to more funds allowing to enter into art houses auctions. Didn’t take long till him and the people working with him started mismanaging funds. The simply bought items from auction houses or private collectors at prices much higher than their value. The state would pay the amount invoiced and the difference was split between those involved. Whether or not this was done with his direct knowledge is unknown. But he was axed from his last job and received a six year house arrest sentence.
The fact he didn’t pay debtors is not entirely true. Once his profile as an art collector raised, art brokers started trying to charge him higher than the actual value of the art piece. Many of the pieces he bought, upon closer examination, he started disputing them both with the broker and those who work for him.
He died from a cardiac arrest. It is unknown what will happen to his collection. What is more interesting is learning what’s in his collection of treasure.
Thanks for the background. I heard about the Brazilian Parrots but not the patriots, must be the armed faction of the Blue Brazilian Parrort Front….
His work to breeding and conserving rare species should be lauded. I wish more people would rather do the same instead of having inhumane private zoos
RIP to the departed, nice backtracking by Sotheby’s, accuse someone publicly of something damaging like that and it turns out it’s all a fabrication. The funny thing is, without that backtracking, who would believe otherwise? Maybe i’ll go back to school and get an invitation to the wildlife reserve!
It was the Coin dealer’s lawyers who claimed he defaulted to Sotheby’s. Sotheby’s didn’t backtrack or even accuse him in the first place.
Thanks for the clarification Deepak
Interesting comment…thanks. Sounds like an interesting person.
This guy seems to have been an absolutely interesting character. Thanks for sharing more background information about him.
I feel very fortunate to have spent a lot of time with him as an assistant to arrange his collection over the last four years. I was one amongst his most connected team who meet him every morning and leave him at night. He was an extraordinarily talented man and had a good understanding and appreciation for almost all forms of art. I have travelled with him to meet collectors, dealers and experts all over the world but very rarely met anyone who combined such passion for works of art with such a deep knowledge of art history and the art market.
I agree to A_qtr, people around him and somebody whom he trusts simply took advantage of his innocent passion on acquiring masterpieces and his mentality of not involving the financial side of every deal and his no cross-checking policy.
It will be impossible to forget his smile, his charisma, his love, the very best of times and the very best of SSAT’s achievements.
Rest In Peace H.E
Something sounds very fishy about his death. Is it a coincidence he was found “dead” in his house in London a day before (or the same day) a Sotheby’s auction is set to take place? I don’t believe in coincidence, and I bet someone (an individual or group) didn’t want Sheikh Saoud to be present at the auction. It would be interesting to see what kind of art is on offer at today’s auction and who will be the big buyers…
He certainly was a colourful character, but 48 is no age to die so I hope he rests in peace.
Whether he is guilty or not .. the man has now passed away. Let’s celebrate his good values and not comment about his rumoured wrong doings since he is no longer here to defend himself. Rest In Peace Sheikh Saud. My condolences to his family, friends and love ones.
Great, but when it is time pay…. nobody home…. Sounds familiar.
He was responsible for this OTT lens…….a snip at $2 million
He ordered this big boy…a snip at $2 million, not much more than most Leica lenses…..
there’s should be a photo here….of a very big lens
Slowly learning about this interesting character… may he rest in God’s eternal peace.
Hope the good he did supersedes these accusations against him. I personally find it odd that someone as humane as him towards such fragile creatures to be anything beyond that.
Another beautiful acquisition made by Late SSAT