Tuesday, 4 October 2016
The Richest Artist You'd Never Heard Of
The secret of his success was his cordial professional relationship with the Saudi royal family, who were prepared in his case to overlook Islam's traditional ban on representative art, especially portrait painting. Vicari painted the Saudi royals and romantic scenes of Bedouin life and the beauties of Riyadh, and at one point sold 125 paintings of the First Gulf War to Prince Khaled for £17 million. No fewer than three galleries in Saudi Arabia are devoted to Vicari's works, which look like the kind of things Rolf Harris might have produced if let loose in Arabia. They are certainly not lacking in, er, vigour and, er, colour. (There's a good deal of Vicari to be seen on Google Images, including a press photograph of the artist giving Harry Secombe a painting lesson.)
This artist clearly had immense charm, and long before he began to exert it on the Saudis, he had become a popular London society portraitist and artist about town. He must also have had a good deal of native talent: the son of Italian restaurateurs in Port Talbot, he won the painting gold medal at the Wales National Eisteddfod at the age of 12 and was the youngest person ever to gain a scholarship to the Slade. There he studied under Lucian Freud, though it seems to have had little effect on his style. When he became rich - with a studio near Nice and apartments in Monte Carlo and Riyadh - he lived high off the hog and was lavish and generous with his money, to such an extent that, by 2014, he had, almost incredibly, managed to bankrupt himself. He died in hospital in Swansea, back in his native land.
What a life! A life worth celebrating, surely (even if the art perhaps isn't).