Programme Overview London 1999 – 2000

The first Painting & Patronage programme was formally launched in June 2000 in London and brought together two royal princes who shared a passion for supporting the arts whilst being amateur artists themselves.

Inspired by the spectacular landscape of Saudi Arabia and Europe London hosted a truly unique art exhibition featuring the art works of HRH Prince Khalid Al-Faisal and HRH The Prince of Wales.

The exhibition, which was held at the historic Banqueting House in proved to be such a success that it was heralded on its opening day as the largest cultural collaboration between the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as well as the two ruling dynasties.

The exhibition included twenty-six oil paintings by HRH Prince Khalid Al-Faisal bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud depicting the mountainous landscapes and people of the south-western province of Asir, of which for over thirty years Prince Khalid Al-Faisal served as its Governor and Emir.

Hung alongside this insight into the hidden magic of Saudi Arabia, were 30 watercolours by HRH The Prince of Wales, painted during rare moments away from his official duties.  These included views of Scotland, Turkey, Greece, France and two watercolours of the mountains of Asir, which The Prince of Wales painted during his second official visit to the province in November 1999. A selection of paintings of Asir Province by British royal tour artist, James Hart Dyke were also on display.

It was fitting, therefore, that for such a special exhibition a truly unique venue had to be found to house it. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal considered a number of options but was insistent that the primary basis for selection was its accessibility to the general public and a building that could fuse the two painting techniques together and form a cultural bridge of mutual understanding and respect.

The Banqueting House in central London served this purpose well. It is the only remaining complete building of the Royal Palace of Whitehall, the Sovereign’s principal residence from 1530 until 1698 when it was destroyed by fire. It is one of the greatest architectural masterpieces in Europe and is still used today for royal major functions. Sir Peter Paul Rubens painted the ceiling of The Banqueting House with images of King James I ascending to heaven as a reward for his earthly works as England’s first Stuart monarch.

But it was Prince Khalid Al-Faisal’s art that became the building’s temporary centrepiece, royally displayed, close to the Throne, under a large Arab tent. The design of the tent amidst the classical and baroque splendour of The Banqueting House, gave visitors an immediate impression of a fusion of Christian and European, Islamic and Arab cultures and traditions.

On the day of the official opening, The Banqueting House once again returned to its former splendour as the centre of British royal court activity. Crowds had gathered outside to witness the arrival of the guests, which included HM King Constantine II of the Hellenes, Portugal’s Duke of Braganza and over 500 ambassadors, high commissioners, parliamentarians, government officials, artists and other distinguished personalities.

British and Saudi Arabian flags bedecked the outside of the palace and a military guard of honour stood to attention as The Prince of Wales, Prince Khalid Al-Faisal and other members of the Saudi Arabian Royal Family arrived to be greeted by the chairman of Painting & Patronage, Mr Anthony Bailey and the Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Westminster.

The two princes then proceeded up the grand staircase and entered the main hall of The Banqueting House to a trumpet fanfare and the playing of the British and Saudi Arabian National Anthems.

Yet despite the pomp and majesty of the occasion, the two royal princes, each gave a very warm and personal speech from the throne in which they were both characteristically modest about their own artistic achievements.

“It is embarrassing for amateur artists like ourselves to be surrounded by our own inadequate works, especially when being looked down upon by Sir Peter Paul Rubens” The Prince of Wales declared.

“I have tried to capture something of the grandeur of the scenery, the peaceful atmosphere and the effect of the sunlight on the serried rank of mountains. I can only hope I have done some justice to this extraordinary landscape”.

Speaking about his visit to Asir, The Prince of Wales concluded, “I must tell you how much I enjoyed my visits to Asir. It is the most wonderful place to paint. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal and I talked about this exhibition together last year during the visit, and I must say that I have been so honoured and delighted that we have worked together on this project. Both Prince Khalid Al-Faisal and his beautiful Asir will remain in my heart for a very long time to come.”

Prince Khalid Al-Faisal also spoke of his delight in exhibiting for the first time in London, expressing his hope “that our pictures and this impressive exhibition will encourage other artists, amateur and professional, from around the world to come to Asir to paint and experience its great natural beauty”.

A reception followed the speeches and the two princes viewed each other’s paintings and met with many of the other guests, each with their own interest in the promotion of the arts. Visitors to the exhibition also had a rare opportunity to experience a traditional Saudi Arabian village, re-created by the Asir-based Dhafir bin Hamsan Centre in the vaulted basement – known as The Undercroft – beneath The Banqueting House.

Originally designed in 1623 as a drinking den where King James I could entertain his friends, the Undercroft was transformed and filled with the sights and sounds of Saudi Arabia, including brightly coloured soft furnishings, woven floor coverings, mannequins in traditional dress and the sweet aroma of herbs, spices and burning incense from Asir province. It was a wonderful introduction to the culture and lifestyle in Asir and was aimed at introducing the spectacular region’s potential to international tourists of Saudi Arabia’s most attractive tourist areas.

Prince Khalid Al-Faisal personally conducted The Prince of Wales on a tour of the traditional village, stopping on the way to view photographs taken in 1967 when his father, King Faisal was welcomed at Buckingham Palace by HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh at the start of his State Visit to the United Kingdom.

Prince Khalid Al-Faisal and The Prince of Wales also met with the chairmen and senior representatives from BAE Systems and Shell who sponsored the exhibition.

Both Prince Khalid Al-Faisal and The Prince of Wales were also very keen to ensure that a longer-term legacy of their exhibition lived on through their roles as patrons of the arts.  The two princes decided that all funds generated from the exhibition should be channeled into setting up a Painting & Patronage Summer School for young artists at The Prince’s Foundation (now PSTA) in London and the Al-Miftaha Visual Arts Village in Asir.

Prince Khalid Al-Faisal therefore launched the first bilateral cultural exchange which, in its inaugural year, included art workshops for students of the King Fahad Academy and other London-based schools.  Prior to the actual exhibition opening ceremony, Prince Khalid Al-Faisal had paid a visit to the headquarters of The Prince’s Foundation and launched the Saudi-British summer art school in the presence of many of the students who would benefit from the exchange programme.

Both royal princes were eager that their joint exhibition should be the springboard for further British-Saudi cultural collaborations and it was announced during the opening that the exhibition would travel to the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, in February 2001.

Painting & Patronage was also honoured that following the launch of the initiative between both countries that HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH The Duke of Kent paid separate visits to the exhibition.

This need for building a greater cultural co-operation is something which Prince Khalid Al-Faisal and The Prince of Wales firmly agree upon.  As long ago as 1993, The Prince of Wales in his capacity as patron of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, in a lecture entitled “Islam and the West” argued, that tolerance, respect and understanding for each other’s culture, and exchanges between them, are vital in helping to break down prejudice.  He also urged that people look at those things that bind our two worlds together, as they are so much more powerful than that which divides us. It is within this spirit that Prince Khalid Al-Faisal and The Prince of Wales developed over many years, a friendship that has brought together the many common things that they jointly share, especially in the wide range of their cultural interests and patronage of the arts. Both princes also share a unique position as being amateur royal artists, but also patrons of the arts through their official roles and positions.

Prince Khalid Al-Faisal began painting while he was a schoolboy at the Model School in Taif, but his artistic activities went on hold during his time as a student in the United States and Oxford in the late 1950s and early 1960s. When Prince Khalid Al-Faisal was appointed Governor of Asir Province in 1968, he took up painting again as an occasional pastime. “It was only in the 1980’s that I started to take it up much more seriously.  I ended up with lots of pictures but no room or use for them. So I used to burn them. Someone said ‘Why are you doing this? You might as well exhibit them to raise money for the King Faisal Foundation.’  So this is exactly what I did.”

The King Faisal Foundation, ( of which Prince Khalid Al-Faisal is the Director-General, was created to honour his late father, King Faisal bin Abdul Aziz (reigned 1964-1975). It was established by the late King’s eight sons who drew up a charter which would present the already familiar concept of philanthropy in an innovate way, while still respecting and promoting the teaching of Islam and its culture throughout the world. The Foundation’s activities include the promotion of self-sufficiency among less fortunate communities, furthering national and international cultural, academic and scientific knowledge through its education and award programmes and being self financing through its proven, practical expertise in managing investments. It is today one of the largest philanthropic organisations in the world and hosts the prestigious annual King Faisal Prize.

The Prince of Wales did not take up painting seriously until the mid-1980s, when he started to paint landscape watercolours. Since then, he has painted over 450 pictures, many of which hang at his Gloucestershire home, Highgrove House.

Art critics and commentators visiting Painting & Patronage were unanimous that the two princes’ latest paintings are much livelier and more colourful than anything they have painted before. They show how experimental both Prince Khalid Al-Faisal and The Prince of Wales are becoming with different painting techniques and reveal a greater freedom of expression and confidence. “Colour has become something to enjoy for its own sake, rather than being just a descriptive element of visual language,” commented one observer. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal’s art studio is situated in the privacy of his home and beautiful gardens overlooking Abha, regional capital of Asir province. It is spacious, well lit and has the atmosphere of a special place of retreat. He said: “My painting was, and still is, a very welcome break from my official duties. In a way it is a sort of spiritual sport in which I forget everything, relax and paint.”

His pictures are mostly produced in series, which sometimes represents a burst of painting activity in his studio over a few days, during which he can work on as many as five canvases at a time. However, these intensive art sessions, some involving several hours of furious painting, can come in between barren periods, which might continue for six months, because his commitments as Governor do not afford him much time to paint.

Prince Khalid Al-Faisal’s painting subjects tend to be those, which reveal the leanings of his heart.  They range from disturbing and stirring images of the struggle of the Afghan Muslims against the Soviet invasion, to heroic and elegiac scenes inspired by the writings of great Arab poets of the past. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal’s oil paintings are characterised by strong colour and gestural brushwork. They reveal the Prince’s great feeling for Asir’s mountainous scenery and his interest in the people and culture of Tihama, a region of Asir between the mountains and Red Sea to the west. Many were on display for the first time at the London exhibition.

Whilst the Painting & Patronage exhibition formed the centrepiece of Prince Khalid Al-Faisal 10-day visit to London, he also found time to conduct a wide number of other official engagements on behalf of Painting & Patronage and all characterised by the same relaxed and informal manner, which has won him countless friends and admirers around the world. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, who is spearheading the move to further open up Saudi Arabia to international tourists and visitors, was also keen to see some of the newest tourist attractions now available in the British capital. The Prince journeyed down the River Thames aboard the Royal Barge accompanied by The Queen’s Barge Masters to the Millennium Dome at Greenwich.  Prince Khalid Al-Faisal and his sons, Prince Bandar bin Khalid, Prince Sultan bin Khalid and Prince Saud bin Khalid, were taken on a conducted tour of London’s newest visitor attraction by exhibition sponsor, Sir Richard Evans, Chairman of BAE Systems.

Prince Khalid Al-Faisal also became the first senior member of the Saudi Royal Family to “take a flight” on the London Eye wheel, where he experienced, despite the wet weather, a panoramic view of the British capital, before taking tea with the other exhibition sponsor, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, Chairman of Shell, at their corporate headquarters.

Baroness Margaret Thatcher, who did so much as British Prime Minister to further economic and political ties with Saudi Arabia, also called on Prince Khalid Al-Faisal at the Shell Centre and offered her support for the exhibition and what it aimed to achieve.

Whilst the visual side of Asir and Saudi Arabia was being promoted through the exhibition, Prince Khalid Al-Faisal also accepted an invitation to explain the unique characteristics of the development of this province. The Prince delivered a keynote speech, called “Balanced Development: the case of Asir, Saudi Arabia” at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London to a packed audience of academics and students.

A reception was also hosted by the Chairman of Painting & Patronage Chairman, Mr Anthony Bailey at his London home for a number of foreign dignitaries who had travelled to London for the exhibition, The Prince of Wales also hosted a candle lit banquet in honour of Prince Khalid Al-Faisal at his historic London home, St. James’s Palace. This exclusive black tie event was held in the Picture Gallery of the State Apartments and was attended by many prominent public figures from across Europe and the Middle East. After the banquet, The Prince of Wales spoke highly of Prince Khalid Al-Faisal and what he has achieved in the field of the promotion of the arts in Saudi Arabia. The British Heir to the Throne concluded his remarks by pledging to continually build with Prince Khalid Al-Faisal on their joint initiatives.

Prince Khalid Al-Faisal concluded his visit to London by attending at the invitation of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office the Trooping of the Colour ceremony at Horseguards Parade, which marks the Official Birthday of The Queen.

Painting & Patronage Chairman, Anthony Bailey, said: “Prince Khalid Al-Faisal Al-Saud and The Prince of Wales are unique men with a great foresight, wisdom and vision. The coming together of two such formidable statesmen and amateur artists through this unique event has ensured that their important message of the need for a greater cultural understanding between our two worlds will surely grow in strength. The opening of the exhibition in Riyadh will also ensure that the Saudi Arabian people play their part in this important initiative”.

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