Charles Saatchi

Charles Saatchi (born June 9, 1943) (Arabic: تشارلز ساعاتجي) was the co-founder with his brother Maurice of the global advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, which became the world's biggest before the brothers were forced out of their own company in 1995. In the same year the Saatchi brothers formed a new agency called M&C Saatchi.

Many large clients followed, and their new agency quickly overtook their former agency in Britain's top ten. Charles is also known worldwide as an art collector and owner of the Saatchi Gallery, and in particular for his sponsorship of the Young British Artists (YBAs), including Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.


Charles Saatchi was born into an Iraqi Jewish family in Baghdad, Iraq (the name "Saatchi" means "Watchmaker" in Iraqi Arabic, a loan word from Persian). The family moved to Hampstead, London, when he was four and he attended Christ's College in Finchley, a suburb in North London. During this time he developed an obsession with US pop culture, including the music of Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Chuck Berry. He also manifested his enthusiasm for collections, building up from Superman comics to jukeboxes. He has described as "life changing" the experience of viewing a Jackson Pollock painting at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In 1970 he started the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi with his brother Maurice; which by 1986 had grown to be the largest agency in the world, with over 600 offices. Successful campaigns in the UK included Silk Cut cigarettes and the promotion of the Conservative Party led by Margaret Thatcher through the slogan "Labour Isn't Working". Eventually, he and his brother Maurice departed the agency and together founded the rival M&C Saatchi agency, taking the huge British Airways advertising account from their former company.

He is a notorious recluse, even hiding from clients when they visited his agency's offices, and has, until recently, never granted interviews. His first wife, Doris Lockhart, became known during their marriage as an art and design journalist, with particular knowledge of minimalism; his second, Kay Hartenstein, was a Conde Nast journalist. He married celebrity cook Nigella Lawson (his third wife) in 2003 and they live in London with her two children Cosima and Bruno by journalist John Diamond.


He bought his first painting in 1973 on a visit to Paris with his first wife, Doris Lockhart. This was a realist work by David Hepher, a British artist, and was a detailed realist depiction of suburban houses. His taste has mutated from "School of London", through American abstraction and minimalism, to the YBAs, whose work he first saw at the Freeze exhibition. His renown as a patron peaked in 1997 when part of his collection was shown at the Royal Academy as the exhibition Sensation, which traveled to Berlin and New York causing headlines and much offence (e.g., to families of children murdered by Myra Hindley) and consolidating the position of the YBAs.

The political symbolism of Saatchi's oeuvre was reinforced by curating an exhibition with the title "New Labour" at the Saatchi Gallery in 2001 (an obvious reference to the strategy of the same name adopted by Labour Party leader Tony Blair). In 2003 the Saatchi Gallery moved to County Hall, the former home of the Greater London Council (GLC), with Damien Hirst's "Hymn" (a giant sculpture of a flayed corpse copied directly from a commercially-available children's anatomical model) being installed in the former council chamber of the GLC.

The gallery's tenancy of County Hall had ongoing difficulties with Makoto Okamoto, London branch manager of the owners, who Saatchi complained had kicked artworks and sealed off the disabled toilets. On September 27, 2005 the gallery announced they would be moving to new premises. On October 7, 2005 a court case began against the gallery, brought by County Hall landlords, Cadogan Leisure Investments, and owners Shirayama Shokusan Co Ltd, for alleged breach of conditions, including a two-for-one ticket offer in Time Out magazine and exhibition of work in unauthorised areas. The judgement went against the gallery, who were forced to relinquish the premises, though the gallery had already announced it was moving to take on the entire Duke of York’s HQ building in Chelsea. There is currently a halt to London shows while these new premises are being prepared.

Although the event was openly celebrated by much of the media and general public, Charles Saatchi was said to be devastated when, on 24 May 2004, a fire in a storage warehouse destroyed many art works, worth millions of pounds, from the Saatchi collection. One art insurance specialist valued the burned work at £50m.

He makes numerous visits to exhibitions, as well as seeking out artists' studios and little-known galleries, particularly in East London, in order to purchase new work. Saatchi claims he is shy, to explain why he rarely gives interviews and makes few public appearances, not even the openings of his own exhibitions (despite having awarded the Turner Prize one year, and answering readers' questions in The Art Newspaper). In 2005 he began work on a new gallery in Chelsea, London, to open in 2007, which occupies the entire . Duke of York Building. In October 2006 he collaborated again with the Royal Academy, while his new building was being prepared, with the show USA Today. The exhibition featured many young US based artists, some largely unknown, who Saatchi believes will be the next generation of art stars.



Further reading

  • Supercollector: a Critique of Charles Saatchi by Rita Hatton and John A Walker (Institute of Artology, 2005) ISBN 0-9545702-2-7

External links

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