Dale Chihuly (American, born 1941) Massive ChandelierPart of the Chihuly Spa, Bishopsgate Juffali Installation2004, Chihuly Studio number '04.194.In'blue and turquoise blown glass, steel armature 366cm wide x 366cm dee x 351cm high (144in wide x 144in deep x 138in high) Joan Miró (Spanish, 1893-1983) Equinoxe, 1967 (one of a few hors commerce impressions aside from the edition of 75) Lynn Chadwick R.A. (British, 1914-2003) Maquette V Walking Couple 29.2cm high (11 1/2in high) (excluding the base) (Conceived in 1976)

Lisa Freedman visits Bishopsgate House, on the eve of the sale of the late Walid Juffali's magnificent collection

My father's approach was evolutionary," says Dina Juffali, daughter of the late Walid Juffali, one of Saudi Arabia's most significant collectors. "He grew up in an environment where the visual arts were hugely important, but from quite a traditional perspective.

As he grew older, his taste matured and expanded." When he died in 2016 at the age of just 61, Walid left a notable legacy of contemporary and modern art, 19th-century masters and fine objets de vertu. This magnificent collection will be offered in a special auction at Bishopsgate House, Surrey, in March.

As Dina emphasises, "he bought with his heart, always collecting things that he loved, things that he was attracted to." She continues, "I think that's the best way to be: the value of art is how it feels. It's so personal – that's what makes it interesting, it's very emotional."

Al-Walid bin Ahmed Al Juffali, the eldest son of Sheikh Ahmed Abdullah Juffali, was a member of one of Saudi Arabia's oldest, wealthiest and most distinguished families. In the 1940s, soon after the founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Walid's father and his brothers, Ebrahim and Ali, started the country's first electricity plant. E.A. Juffali & Brothers went on to make a fortune from their astute response to the consumer market created in the wake of the oil boom, becoming by the 1980s the largest privately owned business in Saudi Arabia.

After his father's death in 1994, Walid Juffali became the company chair. He had, like many of the Middle Eastern new- and old-monied aristocracy in the 1970s, been sent to boarding school in Europe, attending Le Rosey in Switzerland, a school whose well-connected alumni far outstrip those of Eton. Past Roséens include the Aga Khan, the Shah of Iran and Prince Rainier of Monaco; Dodi Fayed was a contemporary. The school has its own yacht and winter term is spent in Gstaad (where Juffali later acquired a home), but beyond its gilded 'extras', it also delivers the academic underpinnings necessary to administer kingdoms, commercial and otherwise. Juffali took education seriously: in his 50s, he was to take a doctorate in neuroscience at Imperial College, London.

This fusion of intellectual sophistication and jet-set glamour was fundamental to the man, but, as in many Middle Eastern households, women played a defining role in his life. Dina notes that "he was the head of a family of eight women and all of them were extremely strong, stronger than the men sometimes. Our family values female independence and that was a very strong thing for my father. You can see it in the art he collected, much of which is of a strong female character – I particularly recall a picture of a woman on a horse going into battle, I called her Joan of Arc, and a painting of three women carrying baskets on the seafront... it shows so much strength. My father was very much a supporter of female independence. It was very inspiring to grow up around, especially in a male-dominated culture."

Walid's mother, the formidable Suad al-Husseini Juffali, was the first chatelaine of Bishopsgate House. This low-lying inter-war neo-Tudor manor, set in 42 acres, was Juffali's Surrey country estate. Its foundation stone, laid in 1926, bears a Latin inscription expressing the wish of 'Vera, Joanna and Miriam' that future inhabitants should enjoy happiness and harmony. When the Juffali parents bought it in 1980, it would certainly have seemed an auspicious acquisition.

Minutes from the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park, then home to the Queen Mother, its secure, gated exterior hid sweeping lawns, tennis courts, and a substantial stable. "I love, love, love that house," says Dina. "It was a good place, like a little museum. It is an elaborate setting, with all these big, old paintings, so you really felt like you were walking into history. The memories everyone has in the house are so wonderful – there's a really good energy for anyone who has ever lived there... it's a place of love."

Dina's grandmother Suad al-Husseini was a rare woman graduate in the 1950s and she remains a powerful presence in Middle Eastern philanthropy. Bishopsgate House was her summer holiday home, a comfortable and manageable mansion, ideally suited to a busy, purposeful family life. "To our family," says Dina, "every house has its own character depending on its location. In England, the approach was always Western." The low-lying rooms, with parquet floors inset with marquetry, are indeed decorated in the European grand manner, ornamented with the finest French furniture, striking Victorian oils, and rich, warm Chinoiserie. The panelled dining room was an ideal venue for large family and formal dinners, with a multi-leafed dining table – accommodating up to 24 – frequently laid with exquisite gold-trimmed crystal and porcelain, shimmering invitingly under the sparkle of a Baccarat chandelier.

There is a notably easy juxtaposition of contemporary and classical art at Bishopsgate House. Dale Chihuly is a significant presence with one of his magnificent chandeliers over the blue-tiled pool, making the space as much an art installation as spa, and an equally striking Chihuly boat in the grounds. "My father met Chihuly before he was a big name. I remember Dale coming over to have a look at the space – I'll never forget his paint-splattered boots – and he thought 'Why not, let's do it'. This was before the V&A got its installation." What was the connection between Chihuly and your father?

"They were both quite creative characters, so they meshed really well – and it became effortless for Dale to create the most perfect, organic pieces. He was a cool guy and my dad liked that."

Strikingly monumental Fernando Botero figures define the landscape when you sweep up to the house. "My father first saw Botero's work in Monaco," says Dina, "and he always felt it should be seen out of doors. I mean, everyone loves Botero... and he just thought, that's a piece and a half!" Throughout the house, works by Warhol and Picasso, by Miró and Chagall indicate Walid's passion for modern art. "The contemporary movement wasn't so much what was valued by Middle Eastern society at the time," Dina explains. "You had your Picassos, to them that was contemporary. But life is a treasure hunt – you have to go out and find what you're meant to have, and Miró spoke to my father on a very bold level – they're quite abstract but it gives you a lot of emotion, it has something to it. It's not like a Calder, which is very bold and straightforward; Miro has layers and nuance."

Juffali's London townhouse, St Saviour's House, in Knightsbridge, just a hop away from Harrods, tipped the antique/modern balance even further towards the now. A conversion of an early Victorian church that was designed by George Basevi, the architect of the grand terraces of Belgrave Square, the property's 21st-century reincarnation has given it a cinema roofed in platinum leaf and a pool ornamented with gold. The interior design is, however, cool, sleek and contemporary. A striking Anish Kapoor refuses to be dwarfed in the 42ft-high vaulted drawing room, while works by Bernard Buffet and Alexander Calder, as well as more by Chagall, Picasso and Miró, sit comfortably alongside a sculptural spiral staircase surrounding a bronze lift.

It is, of course, the perfect base for a busy working existence, but it also reflects Juffali's unerring capacity to merge the old and the new, the East and the West, to create an inviting world – wherever he lived. Dina says of her father: "He was always collecting – it's second nature to my whole family, even my grandparents. He was a man of intuition and had a very good gut instinct. In the early days, he was a pioneer. There were others who collected Western art in those circles, but they hung it in formal rooms where they were hosting guests and diplomats – people like Bill Clinton and George Bush Snr.

When my father saw a piece he liked, there was no talking him out of it. It was always a treasure trove being in any of his properties. He had precious things everywhere. You couldn't help but look at something and think where did that come from? And it would be a Lalique."

Lisa Freedman writes for the Financial Times and other publications.

Sale: The Walid Juffali Collection
Bishopsgate House, Englefield Green, Surrey
Monday 26 March at 10am
Enquiries: Charlie Thomas +44 (0) 20 7468 8358
A proportion of the proceeds from the sale will be donated
to Cancer Research and Macmillan Cancer Support.

  1. Charlie Thomas
    101 New Bond Street
    London, United Kingdom W1S 1SR
    Work +44 20 7468 8358
    FaxFax: +44 20 8963 2803

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