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The King of Painters, Monaco

At the start of this century a Welsh artist was the richest living Welsh person, Britain’s 18th richest person and Britain’s richest painter.

This person had amassed a personal fortune of an estimated £92 million and in 2001 a series of 125 of their paintings sold for $17m, later another group sold for a reported $20m.

Often described as “Britain’s least-known but highest-paid painter...” this Welsh artist is not widely known in the UK beyond a small collector-base in London and south Wales. Paintings can normally be acquired in the UK, for relatively modest sums considering they were produced by a multi-millionaire internationally renowned artist.

We are referring to Andrew Vicari. A name which, when mentioned to those who knew him or know of him, is often returned with a knowing look, and perhaps an anecdote or two.

Andrea Antonio Giovanni Vicari was born in Port Talbot, the famous south Wales steel town with a rich artistic heritage. Vicari’s birth year of 1932 straddled between that of Port Talbot alumni, Richard Burton and Sir Anthony Hopkins. In fact, when Vicari was Britain’s 18th richest living Briton, Sir Anthony was one place behind the painter.

Born to Italian parents, Vicari’s father a restaurateur, his grandfather a clown, he attended Neath Grammar School, and at the age of 12 won the Gold Medal for Painting at the National Eisteddfod. Between 1950 and 1952, Vicari studied at the Slade School after becoming the youngest person to win a scholarship to study at the famous school. At the Slade, he was on occasions tutored by Lucien Freud and by Francis Bacon. But Vicari did not finish his diploma, instead he opted to move to his forefather’s country, basing himself in Florence and then Rome.

After returning from Italy ‘penniless’, Vicari began working in London as a portrait painter. He first exhibited at the Redfern Gallery in 1956 and in 1961 a large show of his work was put on in the former Debenhams showroom near Leicester Square.

But Vicari’s ginormous break came in the early 1970s, when a friend of Vicari’s, working in the Foreign Office, brought Middle Eastern officials to his London studio. It led to Vicari exhibiting in Beirut in 1974, after which he was approached by the King of Saudi Arabia, who was keen to demonstrate the country as one of the most powerful secular societies in the region. For this purpose the King required modern iconography and a progressive court-artist was needed. Andrew Vicari, a European, Slade School trained, London-based painter with a colourful modernistic style, fitted the bill.

Vicari's depictions of King Faisal led to a close friendship between the artist and the King’s son Prince Khalid Al Faisal, who was enthralled by Vicari's ability to capture his father's character.

As Vicari's reputation grew in the middle-East he was commissioned by Prince Khaled bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, the Saudi commander of the joint forces during the Gulf War, to paint a record of the conflict. 'From War to Peace - The Liberation of Kuwait' was to become a series of 225 paintings of which Prince Khaled purchased 125 for $17 million.

There were at one time three museums devoted to Vicari in Saudi Arabia and Iranian Mullahs were so incensed about Vicari’s Gulf War work that they offered the artist £5m to destroy them.

Andrew Vicari’s popularity in Saudi acted as a springboard to the curators at other International offices. He was the first Western artist to be officially invited to paint the triumvirate of Confucius, Mao Tse Tung and the first Emperor Guin Shi Huang – the three most important figures in Chinese History. In France, Vicari was hired as the official painter for Interpol and the CRS. He painted the portraits of many powerful figures of the period – Francois Mitterand, Sophia Loren, Prince Rainier of Monaco and ominously Vladimir Putin.

Vicari lived the high-life, he enjoyed a lavish existence and was certainly not shy about his achievements, once describing himself as ‘..the last oil painter in the line of Goya, Rubens, Velazquez and Raphael’.

Vicari would recall a letter that was simply addressed “The King of Painters, Monaco’ which apparently reached him.

Lot 272 | The Welsh Sale at Gregynog | July 27th

'La vigonad del tramoto'

£700-1000

272

In a character revealing interview with Stuart Jeffries of the Guardian in 2002, Vicari declared, “I don’t know why they say I’m unknown. I’m very gregarious. I know everybody. When I was a student at the Slade, Francis Bacon was my mentor. He would try to seduce me because I was very handsome in those days. Every time I used to see him he couldn’t resist a little touch on the knee. I used to laugh him off. I knew Stephen Spender and David Sylvester. I knew Sartre. Truman Capote lived next door to me in Rome. I went round to borrow some milk from him. He came to the door in a baby-doll nightie. He said: ‘I’ll see.’ Jean Genet was behind him with an Irish setter. I knew Orson Welles. Jonathan Aitken I’ve known since we were members of the squash club at the MCC decades ago. You couldn’t meet a more honest man. I’ve known everybody and everybody knows me.”

When not working in Middle-East palaces, embassies or offices around the globe, Vicari lived and worked at his studio outside Nice, France, but he also owned apartments in Riyadh and Monte Carlo. His International reputation was beyond any other Welsh-born artist. In 2006, Vicari’s fortune was estimated at £92million.

Astonishingly though, only eight years later, Vicari filed for bankruptcy. His fortune was spent. Andrew Vicari died at Morriston Hospital, Swansea on 3 October 2016 at the age of 84.

In this Welsh Sale we will be offering a cache of seven Andrew Vicari oils from the same London vendor who knew Andrew Vicari for years. He was able to shed some light on the mystery that surrounds Vicari, and how the flamboyant character, once Britain’s richest painter, came to his demise

Lot 264 | The Welsh Sale at Gregynog

'Avant la derniere veill'

£500-700

264

‘I first met Andrew Vicari in 2000, following an introduction from his business manager Sebastian Brealey.

Andrew by this time had become quite the legend over in the Middle East and now had the distinction of being Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal Official Court painter . Andrew was allowed to introduce figuration into official Islamic art for the first time since the 14th century.

When I met Andrew at the East India Club in London, I found him to be great company, charming and a most flamboyant character. The list of celebrities and Royals he had painting was endless, and lead to some great stories.

Despite Andrew’s success in the Middle East he was still a relative unknown in the UK.

We met as he wanted to explore with me whether he could use his paintings as collateral to set up a property fund in the UK and this was something we did to good success over a five-year period from 2002. By which time he was splitting his time living between Cannes and Riyadh, he invited me to Cannes where he was now renting Picasso’s villa. When there I agreed to accept paintings in exchange for my work setting up The Fund and it is some of these that are now listed in this Welsh Sale catalogue.

Over the years of our friendship, I accepted invites from Andrew to visit Saudi Arabia and the UAE and saw for myself some of the enormous and majestic works he had spent painting which are on display in the King Faisal Conference Centre Riyadh.

I lost touch with Andrew in the years before his death and was saddened to see he passed away in 2016 . He was a proud Welshman and always wanted to return to Wales and be buried in his Homeland.

With regards to money, well… Andrew netted considerable sums from the Gulf War series of paintings but he also incurred huge expenses self-funding his tours of both China and Russia and renting studios and living accommodation in Monaco, Nice and Cannes.

This was in addition to maintaining permanent Hotel suites in Riyadh and London, whilst at the same time funding his quite considerable entourage consisting of no less than a personal biographer, driver, security guard and special advisors!

The payments for the paintings eventually ended but the expenses did not. The cost of self-promotion eventually caught up with Andrew Vicari’.

There are intriguing biographies for many of the stalwarts of our Welsh Sale auctions, but no other story comes close to Vicari’s life in terms of flamboyancy, wealth, excess and international adventure. If I was able to piece together all those anecdotes I have heard over the years, I am sure it would make for a Hollywood script. Rhys Ifans the lead role?

Lot 274 | The Welsh Sale at Gregynog

'Ad-avalon'

£700-1000

274

There are seven works by Andrew Vicari in our Welsh Sale at Gregynog. View the entire auction at

Rogers Jones & Co | The Welsh Sale at Gregynog Hall

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