The private collection from HH Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani’s Doha property goes under the Sotheby’s hammer this month.
“This is a story of love at first sight,” proclaims Edward Gibbs, Sotheby’s chairman for the Middle East, while describing one of the region’s most influential collectors of fine art and antiquity. The company is presenting the contents of Qatar’s HH Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani’s property in Doha, showcasing one of the most illustrious collections of prestige furniture in the Middle East at an international auction this summer.
A collector whose tastes were formed at a young age, Sheikh Hamad would explore many of Europe’s cities as a child, traveling with his family to discover art and culture in Paris, Rome, and London. It was this early exposure to European interior design, and the resulting consummate passion for Parisian grandeur, that would have a profound influence on the houses that he would come to furnish.
Taking place in Paris on June 30, the house sale includes 400 lots for an estimated €2-3 million, celebrating the quality of His Highness’s eye through one of the first residences that he had decorated himself – paying tribute to the grandeur, opulence, and refinement of the 18th and 19th centuries. Within this collection, the Qatari royal unmasks a predilection for the great French cabinetmakers and woodworkers, as well as rare and exclusive pieces from England, Russia, Italy, the Middle East, and Asia.
“Stepping into this palace in the heart of the Middle East, we find the influence of historic French, Italian, and English design, ranging from the styles pioneered by Louis XIV in the 17th century through to elements from Victorian England in the mid-19th century and the sense of royal ease and comfort inherited from a bygone age,” says Gibbs. Seen together, Gibbs explains, the pieces showcase a taste for the decorative arts at their very best – including the ingenious cabinetmaker Jean-François Oeben (1721-1763), (grandfather of the Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix), the refined Parisian ébéniste Roger Vandercruse Lacroix (1728-1799), and the master carpenter Nicolas-Quinibert Foliot (1706-1776), all of whom are names that, while not as widely known today, were the most celebrated craftsmen of their day. “Among the highlights of the sale, I would have to point out a Louis XVI secrétaire à abattant by Dautriche (estimated at €60 000-100 000) and a late Louis XV mantel clock, with a night-and-day orb and moonphase, crafted in Paris circa 1765, which we think may have been made for the Count of Artois (estimated at €50 000-80 000),” says Gibbs.
The collection also includes a number of Old Master paintings, which hung in His Highness’s seaside Doha palace, alongside the masterworks of furniture, including The Penitent Magdalene by the Circle of Leonardo da Vinci or Andrea Verrocchio (estimated at €20 000-30 000). There is also exceptional flatware. “One unexpected delight is a truly opulent collection of antique silver, including beautiful 19th century English pieces and a collection of charming Portuguese silver animals,” he says. Gibbs also asserts that this 17th and 18th century furniture was originally commissioned for a princely lifestyle and at the time of its conception was defined by technical prowess and pioneering creativity as royalty sought out the highest quality.
With a strong connection to the Middle East, Sotheby’s has for more than 40 years hosted biannual auctions of arts of the Islamic world and India in the spring and fall. These auctions are some of the most diverse held at Sotheby’s and include glass, ceramics, metalwork, arms and armor, manuscripts, and miniatures spanning more than a millennium of production from Muslim Spain to Mughal India. The most recent sale in London on March 31 totalled £9.4 million – the strongest result in this category for more than a decade – with a record price of £3 million achieved for a rare, rediscovered 12th century Khurasan silver-inlaid basin adorned with signs of the zodiac.
With the ongoing pandemic changing consumer behavior and the way art is now being bought and sold, some might ask whether people have become less attuned to luxury and the fine arts. “On the contrary,” Gibbs assures. “Art and luxury goods have become even more important to people. Our clients have had more time at home to focus on what is available, increasing the appetite to buy for special occasions.” The chairman adds that due to global lockdowns over the past 12 months, many have found themselves focusing more on the aesthetics of their surroundings. Collecting patterns that were perhaps not at the forefront of some millennials’ minds – an interest in collectibles, decorative arts, or certain segments of design, for instance – are set to flourish as a result.
Confidence in bidding online has risen exponentially, with a noted transformation in attitudes. Today, 88% of Sotheby’s bidders choose to bid online. “A thirst for knowledge has always been a hallmark of a serious collector and there have never been more resources available than today,” Gibbs adds. With plenty more in the pipeline, Sotheby’s hopes to introduce Middle Eastern collectors to a broad range of art from all periods and all corners of the globe. “Quality is timeless,” Gibbs concludes. “And cultured and urbane people love to own a piece of history.”
Originally published in the June 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia