Sheikh Saud al Thani of Qatar


Sheikh Saud Al Thani burst onto the antiquities market in the late 1990s. He was buying Islamic, Egyptian and Roman antiquities, along with natural history prints and specimens, libraries, jewelry, antique bicycles, and lots more besides. To hide his identity he would often use several different agents to do his bidding at auction, and he was prepared to pay record prices. He was buying some material for himself, but was also acting as president of Qatar’s National Council for Culture, Arts and the Heritage (NCCAH) to acquire material intended to furnish a new museum complex which would make Qatar the cultural capital of the Gulf (Adam, G. 2004; Adam, G. and L. Harris 2004; Adam 2005). Among his record-breaking antiquities purchases were the so-called Jenkins Venus, a second-century AD Roman statue bought at Christie’s London in June 2002 for £7.9 million, and the third-century AD Roman “cage cup”, bought for £2.3 million at the Sotheby’s London November 1997 sale of the British Rail Pension Fund’s collection of ancient glass. He subsequently resold the cup for £2.6 million at Bonhams on July 14, 2004 (Harris 2005a), but by May 2005 it was thought to be back in his collection (Ruiz 2005).
In April 2005 the buying came to an end when Sheikh Saud was placed under house arrest in Qatar under suspicion of misusing public funds. He was replaced as president of the NCCAH by Mohammed Abdulraheem Kafoud (Adam 2005). In May and June 2005, in two cautiously anonymous pieces, the Art Newspaper claimed to have obtained evidence that the London dealer Oliver Hoare had on several occasions supplied Sheikh Saud with falsely inflated invoices, and alleged that Sheikh Saud had used these invoices to embezzle the Qatari state (n.a. 2005a; 2005b). Sheikh Saud’s sudden disappearance from the auction market was reported as an “unmitigated disaster” (Harris 2005b), revealing the inflating effect that can be exerted by one enthusiastic and exceedingly wealthy person.
Adam, G. 2004. “Meet Sheikh Saud al Thani of Qatar”, Art Newspaper no. 146, 30-31.
Adam, G. 2005. “World’s biggest art collector under arrest in Qatar”, Art Newspaper no. 157, 1, 48.
Adam, G. and L. Harris 2004. “ Sheikh Saud’s spending spree”, Art Newspaper no. 148, 1, 49.
Harris, L. 2005a. “Bought and sold by the Sheikh”, Art Newspaper no. 157, 47.
Harris, L. 2005b. “An unmitigated disaster”, Art Newspaper no. 159, 9.
n.a. 2005a. “Mystery of London dealer’s inflated invoices for world’s biggest collector”, Art Newspaper no. 158, 1, 7.
n.a. 2005b. “Revealed: how Sheikh Saud embezzled millions from his cousin the Emir of Qatar”, Art Newspaper no. 159, 1, 8.
Ruiz, C. 2005. “Bought, sold, and bought again by Sheikh Saud”, Art Newspaper no. 158, 7.