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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 May, 2004, 09:58 GMT 10:58 UK
Saatchi: the mogul of British art
Charles Saatchi
Saatchi made his money as an ambitious advertising mogul
BBC News Online looks at the enigmatic art lover and collector Charles Saatchi, who has suffered the loss of some of his art collection in a warehouse fire.

There are no flies on Charles Saatchi, unlike the meals which featured in a food safety poster promotion for which he was the young copywriter.

Saatchi's graphic description of the functions a household fly might perform on unattended morsels made people squirm, but conveyed the message.

As did his second campaign for the Health Education Council, designed to promote the use of contraceptives.

The picture of a pregnant man with the question "Would you be more careful if it was you that got pregnant?" was the idea of an assistant, but it was Saatchi's boldness that gave it the green light.

Saatchi has never been short of brainwaves from the time he and his younger brother, Maurice - now a Tory peer - set up their advertising agency in London in 1970.


The story, possibly embroidered, is that Charles hired a dozen strangers in the street to pose as advertising executives to persuade a potential major client that he was entering a busy office. It worked, and the Saatchis were on their way.

Charles Saatchi was born in Iraq in 1943. Four years later, he and Maurice were brought to Britain as their wealthy Jewish parents fled persecution.

Charles's formal education ended at 17, but when he formed a freelance consultancy a few years later he invited Maurice on board to utilise the analytical skills the younger Saatchi had gathered at the London School of Economics.

Damien Hirst
Saatchi "discovered" controversial British artist Damien Hirst

It was a 1978 poster with the slogan "Labour Isn't Working", which made Saatchi and Saatchi a household name, even though it was a fake.

The 100-strong queue of "unemployed" - suggesting it would be folly to re-elect James Callaghan's Labour government - was in fact composed of fewer than 20 Young Conservatives, with several photographs superimposed on each other.

It played a significant role in sending Margaret Thatcher to Downing Street.

Hirst support

By 1986, the brothers had made the agency the biggest in the world. But soon the bubble burst. Charles and Maurice were ousted in a boardroom coup, and set up a rival agency, M&C Saatchi, taking many of their clients with them.

By this time, Charles Saatchi had already established himself as a major collector of modern art. He and his first wife, Doris, an American-born art writer, staged impressive shows at the Saatchi Gallery in St John's Wood, north London.

But after their divorce in 1990, Charles focused on a new wave of British artists - aided by his second bride, Kay Hartenstein.

It is Saatchi who is credited with making a star of Damien Hirst - his first acquisition was a glass box stocked with the decomposing head of a cow - and Tracey Emin, whose infamous unmade bed cost him 150,000.

Saatchi Gallery at County Hall
The gallery is funded by Charles Saatchi

Notoriously elusive, Charles Saatchi has rarely given interviews and seeks entertainment playing Scrabble or bridge with friends.

"There's nothing complicated about me," he has said.

In 2003, a rare TV appearance on the BBC's Imagine arts strand saw him hanging modern art in his home - but he still did not give an interview.

Now divorced from Saatchi, Kay Hartenstein recently characterised him as "a man of crushes - cars, clothes, artists".

This remark was treated by some as a veiled warning to his partner, TV cook Nigella Lawson, who became his third wife that year.

'Malign influence'

While Damien Hirst has called him a "shopaholic", Saatchi has described himself as "a gorger of the briefly new".

His acts of philanthropy, of bursaries at art schools and donations to the Arts Council in England, are well catalogued, but the artist Peter Blake says it must not be forgotten that he is a dealer as well as a collector.

"He has become a malign influence," said Blake, "by building up some artists and leaving others as victims."

In 2002 the British art world was abuzz over the alleged personal rivalry between Saatchi and the curator of the Tate Modern, Sir Nicholas Serota.

Saatchi's decision to open his own gallery at nearby County Hall was seen as a slight since it had once been supposed that one day the Tate Modern would get the bulk of his huge collection.

But one of the most remarkable Britart works, Self - a cast of the artist Marc Quinn's head made from his own frozen blood - was destroyed before it could be placed in the gallery. The freezer in which it was stored at Saatchi's London home was reportedly switched off by builders.

Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson
Saatchi is now married to TV chef Nigella Lawson

In 1997, Saatchi's collection, Sensation, whose exhibits included a portrait of Myra Hindley made from children's handprints, drew 300,000 people to the Royal Academy.

But in 2002, he attacked the Turner Prize shortlist, calling it "pseudo-controversial rehashed claptrap".

The Saatchi Gallery opened in April 2003, when the 1,000 guests at the event saw a "nude happening" involving 200 naked people choreographed by artist Spencer Tunick.

But Saatchi kept to his reclusive image - he declined to turn up to his own gallery's opening.

Earlier this year Saatchi sold 12 of Damien Hirst's pieces back to the artist's White Cube gallery, which came after the pair reportedly feuded over how the artist's work was being shown at the gallery.

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