Qatar’s Royal Family, among the biggest collectors of contemporary art, worldwide

Paul Cezanne, The Card Players 1895 purchase by Qatar

Last week, the Royal Family of Qatar, purchased Paul Cezanne’s “The Card Players” (1895) for a record $250 million in a private sale sometime in 2011 — the highest reported price ever paid for a single work of art. The Emir’s 28-year-old daughter HRH Sheikha Al Mayassa who is also the head of the Qatar Museums Authority has widely been reported as the mastermind behind the tiny emirate’s contemporary art shopping spree.

She hired the former president of the Rhode Island School of Design, Roger Mandle, to help direct the authority early in her tenure. In 2011, after the Emir failed in a bid to purchase Christie’s auction house, the QMA poached its chairman, Edward Dolman, instead. He now serves as the QMA’s executive director. For the family’s art-collecting needs they often work with the notoriously discreet G.P.S. art dealership, which consists of Franck Giraud, Lionel Pissarro and Philippe Segalot. In addition to G.P.S., former head of Impressionist and modern art at Christie’s Guy Bennett was reportedly involved in the Cezanne sale.

The Qataris have been linked to some very expensive purchases in the modern and contemporary categories over the last few years. They were the ”reported buyers” of 11 Rothko paintings from the collection of J. Ezra Merkin, ; $400 million worth of art from the Sonnabend estate; the $72.8 million “Rockefeller Rothko” purchased at auction in May 2007; and Andy Warhol‘s “The Men in Her Life,” which they picked up for a cheap $63.4 million at Phillips de Pury in November 2010.

Qatar has become of the largest property owners in London — a designation that doesn’t come cheap. Their British real estate investments over the last few years are rumored to total £10 billion ($15.8 billion). That’s a Cezanne 60-times over. In 2010 the Emir bought Harrods for £1.5 billion, and a Qatari investment group is funding Renzo Piano‘s under-construction Shard London Bridge building as well, at a price reported to be in the £2 billion range.

Also, it is important to note that two other dealers — Acquavella Gallery and Larry Gagosian — were reportedly interested in the painting, and rumored to have just underbid the al-Thanis. The Art Market Monitor blog has already pointed out that dealers don’t buy for themselves, but for other clients — meaning there are probably at least two other collectors out there willing to pay a similar amount (dealers would hike up the price after purchase, of course). As astronomical as the sum is, it isn’t inconceivable that Qatar bought the work as an investment. In ten years it could be worth $350 million to the right person.

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