Oliver Hoare – The Collector Royal

8 October 2019
Duncan Ballantyne-Way

The influential Islamic art dealer and collector, Oliver Hoare, who died last year of cancer aged 73, was a master of the international art deal with a knack for operating under the radar. Later this month, his personal collection comprising over 150 extraordinary treasures goes up for auction at Christie’s London. It’s a collection that reflects the distinction of a long and distinguished career, so it is more than a touch unfortunate that he will mostly be remembered for his clandestine romance with Princess Diana.

Born in 1945 to a Norfolk landowner, Hoare’s enthusiasm for Islamic art was first sparked as an art student at the Sorbonne in the 1960s. He travelled much in the Middle East before finding employment at Christie’s in 1967. It was whilst going through their basement storerooms that he came across a pile of artefacts that no one knew anything about. “I recognised them as ancient Islamic works of art because I had seen such things on my travels. So I was asked to assemble an auction.” This would be the beginning of Christie’s Islamic Art Department and the start of his illustrious career.

It was often said that Hoare had an insatiable thirst for discovery. He zeroed in on the unusual and like his close friend the writer Bruce Chatwin was a connoisseur of the unknowable. In 1975 he set up his own Ahuan Gallery in Pimlico where he become the dealer to some exceedingly rich Arab Sheikhs. One stands out in particular, the Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Al-Thani of Qatar, who in the space of 8 years went on an unparalleled shopping spree. At Sotheby’s and Christie’s alone he spent an estimated $1 billion on Islamic works of art, furniture, western photography, jewellery, and vintage cars. It since been estimated that Hoare is responsible for securing 75 per cent of the works now housed in the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.

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