Andrew Vicari, was a Welsh fine artist who is most widely associated with striking works commissioned during his years as the official court painter to Saudi Arabia's King Faisal and as official Gulf War artist in 1991. It earned him the titles 'the King of Painters, the Painter of Kings' and 'Rembrandt of Riyadh'.
Born Andrea Antonio Giovanni Vaccari to Italian parents on April 20th, 1932 in Port Talbot, Vicari was just 13 years old when his artistic flair was recognised with the gold medal in the National Eisteddfod of Wales. He attended the Swansea School of Art before going on to study under Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, and William Coldstream at the Slade school of Art during what are often regarded as the school's greatest years. Under Bacon's guidance Vicari concentrated on oil painting while Augustus John insisted on sitting for Vicari so as he could repeatedly draw him and develop his skills as a draughtsman. As a result of this dual tutelage Vicari was able to call on both his unique flare and ability with paint and his exemplary draughtsmanship throughout his long career. After graduating from the Slade, he worked in London as a portrait painter and his first public exhibition was held at the Redfern Gallery in 1956.
Vicari's first brush with the Arab World - where he would go on to change the artistic landscape - came when his Foreign Office friend would bring Middle Eastern officials to his London studio. It led to Vicari's exhibiting in Beirut in 1974. The most significant phase of his career began when he was approached by the King of Saudi Arabia, who was keen to position the country as one of the mightiest secular societies in the Middle East and was in search of a new iconography.
An imposing conference hall was to be erected in the rising capital of Riyadh around 1974, to be decorated with adequate compositions. Vicari decided to realise almost sixty works titled symbolically. The Triumph of he Bedouin, and the whole process lasted for five years. The works in the series tell the tale of the development of Saudi Arabia from its origins to its emergence as a modern nation. The collection now hangs in the King Faisal Conference Centre in Riyadh, one of three spaces dedicated entirely to Vicari's artworks in Saudi Arabia.
This was followed by his appointment as the official court painter to the King of Saudi Arabia. This appointment was historic not just because a non-muslim had been selected to hold a position in Islamic and Arabic culture, but also because it led to Vicari reintroducing figuration into official Islamic art for the first time in fourteen centuries.
Vicari's depictions of King Faisal led to a great friendship developing between the artist and the King’s son Prince Khalid Al Faisal, who was fascinated with Vicari's ability to perceive his father's character. As Vicari's reputation grew he was commissioned by Prince Khaled bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, the Saudi commander of the joint forces during the Gulf War, to paint a record of the conflict. 'From War to Peace - The Liberation of Kuwait' was to become a series of 225 paintings of which Prince Khaled purchased 125 for $17 million.
In china where adorning crowds acclaimed him 'Great master' he was invited by the Ministry of Culture of the Peoples Republic of China to be the fourth occidental artist to exhibit in Beijing, his precursors being Rodin, Miro & Chagall. He was also the first western artist to be honoured by being officially invited to paint the great Chinese Philosopher Confucius. — the exhibition included a triptych of portraits including Confucius, Mao Tse Tung and the first emperor of Chine Guin Shi Huang - three of the most important figures in Chinese History.
It was only towards the turn of the Millennium that Vicari began to gain recognition and acclaim in his native Wales. In 2002 he was commissioned to paint a mural in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, and in 2004 he was voted in the top fifty Welsh heroes of all time.