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.