Billionaire Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, former Qatar Prime Minister, purchased Picasso’s celebrated work, The Women of Algiers (Version O), in 2015. Not only did the royal outbid his rivals in a tense 11-minute auction at the Christie’s auction, but he also paid a record-breaking sum of $180 million for the multi-hued painting. Apparently, once the bidding reached $120 million, the Picasso was pursued by five clients on telephones.
Despite the slow $1 million increments by his competitors, Sheikh proved a formidable opponent to outbid. What is intriguing is this auction in New York was the last time the world laid eyes on the vibrant work that features motifs that are best kept behind closed doors owing to strict Middle Eastern laws.
The Qatar royal family knows good art from a mile away, and though not for display, HBJ is a seasoned art collector who wouldn’t let the opportunity pass him by. With a vast real estate portfolio like a $281 million One Hyde Park penthouse in Knightsbridge and $192 million property near Belgrave Square, palatial superyachts, like the $400 million superyacht Katara, there are ample spaces where Picasso’s cubist work may find refuge. Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani was once dubbed the man who bought London because he owned several properties.
The deep-pocketed art patrons of the Middle East were perfectly described by William Lawrie, Head of International Modern Contemporary Arab and Iranian Art at Christie’s, “Qatar’s royal family is very much like modern-day equivalents of the Medici’s in 16th-century Florence.” The world will only catch a glimpse of Picasso’s 1955 painting Femmes d’Alger in pictures online until the royal family decides to sell the work or loan it to a museum outside their nation.
Sheikh Saud Al-Thani alone spent $1 billion on art in just seven years. Sheikh Saud’s older brother, Hassan bin Mohamed bin Ali Al Thani, owns one of the most extensive collections of modern Arab art in the world, estimated at 6,300 pieces. Their collection boasts several masterpieces like Paul Cézanne, The Card Players worth $250 million, Andy Warhol’s $64 million The Men in Her Life, and J. Ezra Merkin’s 11 Rothkos for an astounding $310 million.
The Emir’s daughter Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani heads the royal family at the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA). She is dubbed “the most powerful woman in the art world today.”