Art Around the World

Gulf War Artist Strikes it Rich

By Tom Gross, December 05, 2000

An unknown British artist has been paid over $25 million by a Saudi prince for a series of paintings. The payment to Andrew Vicari, a 62-year-old painter who was born in a small town in Wales and now lives in a penthouse in Monte Carlo, confirms him as one of the highest-paid artists in the world today.

Ten years ago, immediately following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and with the Gulf War about to break out, Vicari traveled to Saudi Arabia, where he embarked on a series of Warscapes to chronicle the conflict. Inspired, he says, by Tolstoy’s War and Peace, he painted a series of towering canvases of tanks, Stealth bombers, and cruise missiles. He also painted portraits of senior military commanders who agreed to sit for him, including General “Stormin” Norman Schwarzkopf (General Schwarzkopf presented Vicari with a khaki cap that Vicari says he still wears with pride while painting).

Now Prince Khaled bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia has agreed to purchase the 125 works. The prince plans to display the paintings in a new museum in Riyadh commemorating the conflict. Vicari says that “at first the idea of painting a tank seemed horrible, but eventually I got to like them. They became like beautiful women to me.”

Some of the canvasses are monumental in scale, towering to 35 feet, and Vicari had to use a forklift to reach the top of them. Typical is an enormous canvas entitled The Rape of Kuwait, which shows dozens of anguished women dressed in traditional Moslem chadors.

Among other subjects of Vicari’s past work are former French president Francois Mitterrand, screen goddess Sophia Loren, and Chinese dictator Mao Zedong. Vicari whose name still does not appear in major artists’ directories says he would next like to paint the new Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

Article copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.