The death of Sheikh Nasser in December 2020 sparked a flood of condolences from people who knew and knew of him. In his life he touched many people in the art and culture world, some directly and some indirectly.
Tony Blair: Tribute to Sheikh Nasser
Jonathan Powell: Tribute to Sheikh Nasser
Dr. Stephan Kriesel, Former Head of the Tony Blair Government Advisory Group.: Tribute to Sheikh Nasser
Dr Yousef: Tribute to Sheikh Nasser
**Please close each tribute after reading before opening the next tribute.**
In the areas of his greatest interest, Sheikh Nasser was the most gifted collector of the finest works whom I have been privileged to know. Thus, it was indescribable to be so fortunate as to work with him for decades on building further what was already a world-unique collection of Islamic art when I first came to know of it in 1982.
The most fundamental and irreplaceable factor in his collecting was a simply phenomenal set of talents for recognizing, appreciating, internalising and remembering the unique qualities of objects of art, from those valued such as to be affordable by almost anyone, through the gamut of the upper end of values in the fields concerned. And he exuded enthusiasm for individual objects which occupied positions at all of the levels concerned.
At the same time, he ardently valued the opportunity to make such range of works of art available to the people of Kuwait, which he knew would engender pride and interest in the history and art-history of the immediate region, and radiating outward. Such can only positively affect the culture and outlook of the succeeding generations, locally and regionally, at the same time broadening awareness of the world and its culture in an endless and peace-building sense of world brother- and sisterhood.
Anyone working with him in a curatorial role found themselves in need of focusing on the art and divesting themselves of egotistical stances, whatever their previous achievements or reputation, since his ‘mental database’ often included things of types which had never been published, and extended to individual gemstones! But whatever self-excuses one might have, it was always a learning experience, but within a congenial atmosphere: ‘Manuel, you don’t remember that?’ ‘No, sir, I have to say that I don’t.’ But it should be emphasised that even in areas of collection which interested him less than others, when his esteem and trust for a specialist was established, he would extend to them the confidence which has allowed some unique and uniquely unparalleled bodies of types of art. I think here especially of Central Asian jades which are neither Islamic nor Chinese, and which will ultimately bring further unique fame to the Collection.
And lest anyone get the impression that everything connected with him and an art historian was just focused on art objects, it should be emphasised that his company was always pleasant, and encompassed all kinds of interests, from cooking a meal for his guests to watching the training of falcons, to listening to classical Indian music to ...
This tribute, occasioned by Sheikh Nasser’s passing, and in relation to his occupation with building the fabulous art collection, cannot be left without acknowledging the crucial role which his wife Sheikha Hussa played in it all. Sheikha Hussa and Sheikh Nasser, in the earlier part of their married life, were involved in the collection of contemporary art, a matter which should be mentioned as part of the context of their lives’ accomplishments. When the Islamic collection became of such magnitude that they wanted to share it, Sheikha Hussa increasingly became involved as its representative, a role she has continued to play up to the present. And from its opening as an entire building of the Kuwait National Museum, she was its Director, sponsoring publications, internationally-involved lecture series, and so forth. Despite the Iraqi invasion, removal of the Collection to Iraq, and return of the Collection via the auspices of the United Nations, she has continued to represent and promote the Collection up to the present time. We look forward to her carrying on with its care, promotion and well-being into the future.
In sha’ Allah, yusa‘idkum wa yubarak fikum,
Curator The al-Sabah Collection (1982, retired 2013)
The Department of Islamic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art mourns the passing of Sheikh Nasser, a major force in the Islamic art world. Sheikh Nasser was an inspired lover of art, and was an early pioneer of collecting in the Gulf, building an unmatched collection in Kuwait. Together with his wife Sheikha Hussah al-Sabah, he supported cultural activities, scholarly projects and publications and education and established a distinguished museum in Kuwait, which is in the process of being rebuilt since its destruction in the first Gulf War. At the Met, Sheikh Nasser held the position of Honorary Trustee while Sheikha Hussah remains an active member of the Board. The Al-Sabah collection of breath-taking Mughal jewels was shown in the “Treasury of the World” exhibition in 2002, and their support for the museum includes endowments towards positions, exhibitions and educational projects.
Sheikh Nasser’s passion and pursuit of objects was legendary. Ever on a quest for an interesting object his keen eye spotted extraordinary works from the sale rooms of London and Paris to the bazaars of Balochistan. Although his art collection is perhaps most famous for its Mughal gems and treasures, he also built a vast and important trove of Islamic and Indian textiles, metalwork, ceramics, glass, arms and armour, fossils and rocks, and most recently, pre-Islamic art from the middle east.
But it was Sheikh Nasser’s personal warmth and informality that will be as much his legacy. He formed a close circle of friends, trusted colleagues, advisors and personal attendants with whom he maintained life-long relationships. When we re-opened our galleries after a historic five-month closure due to Covid, the very first visitor to walk in was Sheikh Nasser, who came straight there from a hospital appointment. He roamed the galleries with a twinkle as though each work of art was a friend.
Sheikh Nasser had been very kind ever since my student days, when he exposed me to his extraordinary collection, from works of art to fossils. He played a great part in shaping my imagination and was always so approachable and disarming. I miss him very much. More recently, one afternoon when I was walking in Central Park I received an inspiring call from Sheikh Nasser. He had been thinking about our future Jahangir exhibition and plunged right into a conversation about objects, jewels, paintings and history, peppered with generous and creative suggestions. It was such an unexpected pleasure that completely uplifted me and made me realize again how the Mughal legacy has been secured by his vision.
Sheikh Nasser will be deeply missed by all who were fortunate enough to have known him. His legacy in art and humanity will be long cherished and celebrated.
Navina Najat Haidar
Nasser Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah Curator-in-Charge of Islamic Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
My personal memories of dear Nasser are legion – spanning as they do a period of more than 42 years! However, there is one in particular I would like to mention today as not only is it the reason that our long friendship was able to evolve over more than 4 decades but it was the catalyst that gave rise to the creation of Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah. Although I did not include this in the publication 30+ Years Collecting Memories, it is the missing link between the first and second paragraphs of my contribution there and thus a Prologue to that volume.
As mentioned in that publication, after first meeting Nasser in New York in late April, 1978 he invited me to Kuwait in the Fall of that year to meet you, dear Hussah, and to see his collection of Islamic art. While there, he also arranged for me to visit the museum complex designed by Michel Ecochard– the four buildings of which had been completed for some time but still stood empty.
Early in 1981, Nasser asked if I would be willing to serve as the Islamic art specialist in a UNESCO group appointed at the request of the Kuwaiti government to study that complex and ascertain the necessary steps that would lead to its long-awaited opening. Happily agreeing to his request, that April I joined the other members of this group in Kuwait for two weeks to study the buildings and write a report which was to be submitted to the Kuwaiti government. Not long after this report was received in Kuwait, I heard from Nasser that the government had decided not to proceed with the proposed plan. I shall never forget what he said to me after that: “Let’s show them how to do one building, Lyn! Will you agree to direct the project to make one of the buildings in the complex a museum for my Islamic collection?” After securing the blessing of my own museum, I accepted Nasser’s invitation.
At that time, I was planning the installation at The Met of a traveling exhibition which was due to open that November: Renaissance of Islam: The Art of the Mamluks. As I wanted to see if Nasser might be willing to hire the exhibition designer of that show, Charles Ryder, to prepare the Ecochard building for the installation of his own collection, I asked you both if you could come to see this exhibition before it was to close on January 10, 1982. You did just that and as you very much liked the show, while you were still here Nasser offered Charlie the job which he readily accepted.
At the end of January shortly after the Mamluk exhibition closed, I flew to Kuwait for several weeks to begin to set in motion the wonderful project that would lead to the opening of Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah slightly more than one year later – the culmination of dear Nasser’s early and enduring passion for Islamic art and his pioneering vision at a very young age for a museum of Islamic art in Kuwait – the first in the Gulf! His lasting legacy in the field of Islamic art was (and remains) forever sealed!
In closing, it seems very fitting – given the role that The Metropolitan Museum of Art played in my initial introduction to Nasser and the subsequent evolution of Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah – that it would not only serve as the bookends to our wonderful friendship: our very first meeting occuring at The Met in late April, 1978 and our last taking place there as well on August 27th, 2020 but also that he will be forever connected to the Museum’s Department of Islamic Art through the curatorial chair you endowed in his honor!
Dr Marilyn Jenkins-Madina
Since I left Qatar in 2016, I have mostly been in Florence, putting my archives in order and writing occasional articles and exhibition catalogues. Retirement has been wonderful, although as each month passes the very best of people from our lives depart.
Sheikh Nasser was a particularly favourite person for Jacqueline and myself. We met him in the late 1970’s and he often visited our home in Little Venice. He must have realised that we were somewhat in awe of him as he always greeted us with both hands and a huge smile that immediately put us at ease. Then as we looked at 15th -17th century carpets and textiles together, I was struck not just by his extraordinary eye, but his connoisseurship – he was aware of and had seen many of the comparative examples and had a deep admiration for many of the textiles we showed him. It was not Sheikh Nasser, the collector, that we so cherished, but Sheikh Nasser the person – a gentleman, modest, gracious, courteous, thoughtful and inspiring. We often recall the day we spent in Liss in Hampshire for Sunday lunch with all his family. It gave us the courage to live ourselves predominantly in the English countryside.
When the National Museum opened in the winter of 1983, and Sheikh Nasser and Sheikha Hussah hired a huge aeroplane that I believe set off from America and stopped in several European cities on its way to Kuwait, on board were virtually all the great scholars of Islamic art as well as their friends. It was the journey of a lifetime as after each take off we moved about the aircraft seeing friend after friend. But that was just the beginning of a remarkable and unique visit to Kuwait. I recall we were treated to five of the most wonderful days in Kuwait, events lunches and dinner each day – and the fabulous collection of masterpieces of Islamic art seen all together, wow. One year after this extraordinary event I produced a review in Hali in Summer 1984, a tiny token of gratitude that touched on this fabulous event that can never be forgotten. Basil Robinson, Yasin Safadi, Julian Raby, Géza Fehérvári, Robert Skelton, Michael Rogers, Edmund de Unger and Klaus Brisch each kindly wrote two paragraphs. Then, for our readers, I wrote what I could over six pages and was able to give just a glimpse of the extraordinary collection Sheikh Nasser had assembled at that time. Just seven years later, the lovely Kuwait that Sheikh Nasser had introduced us to was invaded and over-run, the collection stolen and the National Museum badly damaged. Fortunately, seven months later Kuwait was liberated. Happily the collection was recovered shortly thereafter.
And really after that for the most part we lost contact with Sheikh Nasser and Sheikha Hussah – I had erroneously thought that Sheikh Nasser had lost his enthusiasm for art, certainly, I recall how badly the British Government treated him and his love of England may have lost its sparkle. Sheikha Hussah had touched upon their homes in Aleppo and Damascus, Sheikh Nasser’s interest in India and beyond.
Many years later, I was invited again to Kuwait to present some papers and had the opportunity to see how the collection had expanded, in particular in the ancient Bactrian carpets from Afghanistan, a subject I had studied in some depth. I recall a visit to their home and seeing the very best of ancient Chinese works of art, a subject very dear to me – and soon was overwhelmed by the breath of their connoisseurship covering so many different and diverse cultures. Then on a later trip I saw an exhibition with so many other fabulous treasures. Yet none of this was really important, when compared with my vivid memories of their charm, their engaging smiles, their courtesy and the extraordinary generosity of both Sheikh Nasser and Sheikha Hussah of which I shall always have souvenirs. It has been a great privilege to have known Sheikh Nasser briefly in my life, he made an enormous impression, and it has always been a great joy to see and spend moments with Sheikha Hussah. Sheikh Nasser will be missed by many, we feel sure that their children, who we met in Liss, have now all grown up into lovely people and had their own children, all of whom must miss Sheikh Nasser very much. He left so many wonderful and lasting impressions.
Remembering Nasser Sabah al-Ahmad al Sabah
Sheikh Nasser loved life, his family, and his country. My family first met him and Sheikha Hussa just after their wedding when I was ten years old. My parents had made the decision to move to Kuwait, and my late father, Mohamed El Mamoun, also known as Abu Mahdi, spent the rest of his working life with the family.
Besides his family, the Collection is his legacy. He had an eye for beauty, rarity, and quality in Islamic art, and he was proud of sharing his vision. I remember his excitement when things were coming together for the opening of the Museum in 1983, and how happy he was to show his collection to scholars, friends, and professionals in the field. I was helping Manuel Keene at the time.
On a more personal level, I treasure two photos with happy memories from the summer of 1979 at the Wylds, and from my sister Nora’s wedding party in Kuwait from 1986.
In 1979, the three of us with our mum, Margrit, were invited to spend the weekend at the Wylds. Nasser had just bought two brass candlesticks and they were sitting on the lawn when we were all sitting outside, so we could admire them. My mum used to bake cakes for Nasser and Hussa, particularly a layer cake. She had brought one with her and everybody, including Bubbles, the Maharaja of Jaipur, laughed when he cut only razor thin slices for his guests. He enjoyed his shisha, as seen on the photo.
In 1986 my parents organised a wedding party for Nora and Harald at the revolving restaurant, and I love this photo of Nasser with my late brother Mahdi, who has now been gone for nearly seventeen years. May they both rest in peace. Almost everybody we knew was there, including Sheikh Hamad, Jeannette and her husband Waleed, Mahmoud Al Nouri, and all the Al Futtooh staff. This was a happy memory.
Sheikh Nasser was a wonderful person, I will always remember his mischievous sense of humour, and he was very brave to the end. He will be much missed.
Mona El Mamoun
I remain shocked and saddened by the passing of Sheikh Nasser; he was just such an exceptional person who took a keen interest in everyone around him.
While I regret not seeing more of him in recent years, I remember our early days together, as we were both young and travelling throughout West Africa to negotiate shrimping ventures. In all of those sessions, Sheikh Nasser was not only the consummate businessman, making hard decisions on behalf of Gulf Fisheries, but also a friend determined to build solid relationships, both business and personal.
In that regard, I continue to think back to one time when we were in Cairo together and he happened upon a Kuwaiti friend (I believe it was one of the Al-Ghanims who ran the GM dealership in Kuwait). With great pride and a huge smile on his face, Sheikh Nasser introduced me to his friend as “This is my lawyer, Brian. Not only is he American, but he is also Jewish!" Sheikh Nasser just had a way of exuding quiet confidence and putting everyone at ease. The word that always comes to mind is authenticity. And I should add that the same applies to Sheikha Hussa, who was the first to call me in Paris when the planes hit the World Trade Center in NY on 9/11, just to make sure that I was OK. I will always remember those acts of kindness that are so touching and appreciated.
Brain D Fix
My first recollection of meeting Sheikh Nasser was some 40 years ago when he visited Sotheby’s in London with Sheikha Hussa to view some of the Islamic manuscripts and miniatures to be included in a forthcoming sale. I had already met Sheikha Hussa in Beirut where we were both students at the American University in the late 60s / early 70s. I was lucky enough to watch them both forming the collection of Islamic art, and admired their knowledge and enthusiasm. I watched them working closely as a team when it came to acquiring pieces for the collection, and founding Dar al-Athar, which I was fortunate enough to visit several times and work on the manuscripts in the collection.
I felt that Sheikh Nasser was happiest when he was in the museum handling the objects in the collection, and discussing them with the experts and curators, which in a way was a form of relaxation for him from the world of politics which was his other love. It is hard to say it, but I am sure and confident that Sheikha Hussa will carry on the work, and ultimately fulfil the dream she shared so closely with Sheikh Nasser.
It is a great privilege for me to have known Sheikh Nasser. His immense curiosity and deep passion for Islamic Art was always compelling. His sense of humour, loyalty, and especially his wonderful enthusiasm are qualities I shall always remember and cherish.
In the Winter of 1974, Oliver Hoare and I formed Ahuan Islamic Art in London. Our first acquisition was an Egyptian white marble slab dated 356 A.H. (967 A.D.). We sold this to the British Museum - our very first sale. This was an auspicious start to our business partnership. Not long afterwards, in 1975, Sheikha Hussah and Sheikh Nasser Al-Sabah came into our lives and we immediately became firm friends.
As I recall, they were visiting London, where they consulted Sir Humphrey Wakefield. He was a Director of Mallett & Sons, who had also worked with Christie’s where he knew Oliver. I believe they were seeking Sir Humphrey’s advice about buying an Alexander Calder ‘stabile’ for the garden of their home in Kuwait. He suggested that they ought also to consider collecting Islamic Art and recommended Oliver, who was both a friend and an expert in this field. On their first visit to our gallery at 71 Pavilion Road, they bought a matching pair of Mamluk enamelled glass beakers, their first pieces of Islamic Art.
Of course, this was just the starting point, leading to the formation of their quite extraordinary collection. I am proud to say that over the following years Ahuan was able to help them acquire a number of important works of art. Perhaps our single most rewarding experience was arranging for Sheikh Nasser to buy all the Islamic material in the collection of the Marquis de Ganay in Paris. This included a number of objects he and his brothers had inherited from their father, and from their Great Aunt, the celebrated collector and art patron Martine, the Comtesse de Béhague (1870 - 1939). Among these was an astonishing Fatimid rock crystal chess set.
By this time, it was clearly the intention of Sheikha Hussah and Sheikh Nasser to share their collection and to show it publicly in Kuwait. They agreed to lend the collection to the Kuwait National Museum for display. Thus, in 1983, the ‘Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah’ was inaugurated there. I shall never forget the opening celebrations. Guests came from all over the world, including numerous distinguished members of the former ruling families of India, many of whom were wearing the most extraordinary Mughal jewellery, something Sheikh Nasser found particularly enticing. Several of the former Maharajas outshone the bejewelled ladies at this splendid occasion.
On the eve of the opening, both Sheikha Hussah and Sheikh Nasser were busy late into the night, as part of the team cleaning all the glass cases, dressed far less formally than on the following day. Perhaps the funniest memory I have of this glorious event was when Sheikh Nasser led his Highness the Emir and numerous other members of the Al-Sabah family and Kuwaiti dignitaries, through the newly opened galleries. All were dressed in their smartest bishts, edged in gold and silver embroidery. As they approached the display cases, each of which was individually fitted with an alarm, the build-up of static electricity from the Zari embroidery set these off serially, case by case, provoking a cacophony of ringing bells.
In February 1991, I was in Riyadh the day the armed forces of the Iraqi invaders pulled out of Kuwait. Three days later, I drove there in a jeep filled with bottled water, oranges, and laden with ‘jerrycans’ of extra fuel, up through Khafji and over the abandoned frontier border crossing, arriving in flame-lit Kuwait City late in the evening. As I had often done in the past, I stayed at the Hilton hotel. This time the weirdest thing was the complete absence of room doors, all of which, strangely, the departing Iraqis had stolen.
The following morning, I went to the National Museum. I knew of course that the collection had been stolen and taken to Baghdad not long after the invasion. On entering the devastated museum, it immediately became clear to me that, ironically, the removal of the priceless works of art was perhaps a blessing in disguise, since the entire interior had been trashed and set on fire. Tragically this destroyed the monumental carved and painted wooden doors from Fez which had stood dominantly as an ‘entrance’ to the collection. These were simply too large to have been taken away. As I walked through the museum, I found myself wading knee-deep through ash and debris. It was eerie and extremely sad and the acrid smell of smoke brought tears to my eyes.
I drove out the next day to see Sheikha Hussah and Sheikh Nasser’s wonderful home, designed by the great Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy. This too had been vandalised and desecrated in the most horrible way. Both indoors and in the surrounding park, quantities of shell casings and other detritus of war were everywhere underfoot. I was thus able to inform Sheikh Nasser and Sheikha Hussah immediately after liberation that I had visited the museum and their home and that at least the buildings remained intact. My reaching Kuwait at the end of this catastrophic period certainly enhanced our friendship. I was privileged to continue seeing them both there and elsewhere over the next three decades.
Sheikh Nasser’s interests were of course wide and varied. Knowing me well, he was aware of my own personal enthusiasm for vintage and classic automobiles and enjoyed riding in my old Bentley. He kindly arranged for me to see several fine local examples. Sheikha Hussah too was fond of beautiful cars and herself drove with great flair. On one visit to London, Sheikh Nasser asked me if I might help find him a suitable Rolls Royce: it had to be classic in shape and old-fashioned looking, with large separate head-lamps, like twin champagne-buckets, but also have the modern benefits of automatic transmission and power steering. I was lucky to locate a lovely example of a 1955 Silver Wraith Town Limousine, with coachwork by the renowned British firm of Hooper. Distinctively painted in black with primrose yellow sides, this grand and ‘Majestic’ motorcar appealed to Sheikh Nasser, and he bought it immediately. A small enhancement was that it had the distinguished licence plates ‘LUX 555’! Sometime later Sheikh Nasser told me he had presented it as a gift to H.H. the Emir of Bahrain.
The Al-Sabah Collection of Islamic Art will remain a lasting testimony to Sheikh Nasser’s passion for both history and beauty and bear witness to his deeply generous nature, sharing with others what he himself so enjoyed. I shall deeply miss his excellent company and wonderful smile.
David A. Sulzberger
The first thing that comes to mind when I recall my sporadic conversations with Sheikh Nasser during the periods I spent researching the glass collection in Fintas is a sense of his boundless energy, relatively short-span but extremely focused attention, and always being a couple of steps ahead of me.
The glass collection was literally growing as I was researching and writing about it: I was trying to fit it into an art-historical framework so that the publication wouldn’t result in just a collection catalogue but in a manual for the study of this fascinating aspect of Islamic art. Every time I arrived in Kuwait, dozens of new works awaited me and from my perspective they needed not only to be researched and integrated into the catalogue (thus forcing me to rearrange sequences, cross-references, and more) but also to be integrated in the art-historical narrative (thus forcing me to rewrite bits and pieces of the introduction and conclusion to the various chapters).
As I sat down at my desk and started to think a bit grumpily “… I will never finish this book …”, Sheikh Nasser would appear out of thin air (I suppose one of his many abilities), greet me very cheerfully and declare something along the lines of “… Carboni, see what I just bought for you, aren’t you happy?! …”
I was obviously both delighted and alarmed at the same time. However, such a disarming attitude, which can only come from someone who is passionate about collecting and a dedicated patron and mentor, totally won me over every time it happened. Sheikh Nasser had a natural talent to make people feel comfortable, to make them feel appreciated, to make them feel respected. This doesn’t happen very often among people with his background, legacy and responsibilities, and I feel privileged that I was allowed to have a glimpse into his world and his personality.
My further interactions with Sheikh Nasser were in more formal settings either at The Met or in London, during which many other colleagues competed to get his attention. However, I believe that those brief animated exchanges we had in Kuwait were always in the back of his mind when we greeted each other in these occasions, as a sort of ongoing complicity between patron and student/scholar/writer that was offered the privilege to put on paper a compendium of his collecting efforts in the area of Islamic glass.
I will always remember him this way, a sparkle in his eyes, quick words, and great communicative energy. Bless his soul!
Stefano Carboni Riyadh,
My father, Oliver Hoare, first met Sheikh Nasser in 1975, shortly after he had left the Islamic art department he founded at Christie’s to set up his own dealership, Ahuan Islamic Art. He always recounted what auspicious timing that meeting was, Sheikh Nasser was his first major client, and before long both he and Sheikha Hussah were also greatly valued friends.
Throughout my childhood I heard Sheikh Nasser’s name spoken of time and again, my father often describing their adventures together, always accompanied by infectious delight and enthusiasm. To my young ears these stories contained in them more excitement than any of the comic books and adventure stories I was then reading. They told of an important project underway, and of admiration for a man of immense vision.
For as long as I can remember my father kept by his desk a colour photograph which was taken during one of these visits to Kuwait. It showed Sheikh Nasser and he together, standing in the middle of the desert, in front of a limousine. On the dashboard of the car balanced two huge glasses of a sherbet drink, one orange and the other lemon. Both are looking straight into the camera lens with huge grins on their faces, showing what a wonderful time they were having!
Apart from the lasting image of fun and friendship this photograph left me with, it also told me how immensely proud he was of the time he spent with Sheikh Nasser, and of what they achieved together.
In 2017, the year before he died, my father received an unexpected telephone call from Sheikh Nasser, whom he hadn’t spoken to for many years. I remember during the course of that conversation how he roared and rolled with laughter while they chatted and teased each other, as if they had never been out of touch. It was easy to recognise as a sign of true friendship.
Two years later, my sister and I had the opportunity to visit Kuwait for the very first time. We spent some time with the astonishing Al-Sabah Collection of Art, which will surely forever remain a compelling legacy to Sheikh Nasser’s extraordinary passion and vision. We were also exposed to his renowned generosity, flying by helicopter to pay him a visit at his pink palace in the middle of the desert. There we spent a wonderful afternoon talking, eating and drinking tea in the shade of fruit trees, accompanied by birdsong and thousands of butterflies.
I will remember that meeting with Sheikh Nasser for many reasons, but perhaps above all for the way he greeted my sister and I, with arms outstretched and with the warmest of smiles, as if we were old friends. We both understood such a display of affection as a touching tribute to our father, and to the extraordinary times and friendship they had shared together.
It was in February 1983 that my late father and I received an invitation from Sheikh Nasser Mohammad Al-Sabah, ex Kuwaiti Ambassador to Iran and then subsequently appointed Minister of Information of Kuwait, for the opening of the Museum of Islamic Art in Kuwait. It was the first institution of its kind in the Gulf Region and where the “Al-Sabah Collection” would be showcased.
The world of Art and Culture had gathered to celebrate this event with the greatest scholars and legendary personalities of the Islamic Art World all in attendance. The collection was dazzling, beautifully displayed and it was during the reception that we were introduced to Sheikh Nasser Sabah and in that same moment a guest approached and addressed him as “Your Royal Highness”. And, with his wonderful smile he replied, “Please don’t call me Your Royal Highness “ . This was my first impression of a man of such noble simplicity, yet at the same time opening to the world one of the greatest treasure chests of priceless Islamic Antiquities as a preserve for all to enjoy.
As I got to know Sheikh Nasser better over time, his larger than life personality surpassed and towered over the importance of the Al-Sabah collection. His warmth, humility, generosity, loyalty, patriotism and childlike enthusiasm of sharing his treasures was truly unique.
Over time, his collection through his ambassadorship represented more than just art but rather became a symbol of the plight of the Kuwaiti people during the dark days of the Iraqi invasion in 1990, giving this tragic episode a face of reality and hope.
At the same time as meeting Sheikh Nasser, I came to know his beloved wife, Sheikha Hussa, who, along with Sheikh Nasser, was instrumental in creating the Al-Sabah Collection. We forged a great friendship and she took me under her wing in those early dark years of post 1979 Iranian revolution and showed me affection and protection that only a sister could have done. When the news of Sheikh Nasser’s passing was announced, the mourning for him extended well beyond his family and Kuwait but across the globe to all mutual friends and acquaintances he touched with his heart.
The world has lost a great man who enriched the world of Art with his great vision and his legacy will survive him, as his greatest treasure. Sheikha Hussah has painstakingly taken the task of offering it to the international public over the past 35 years and will continue to do so well into the future.
As Saadi the Persian poet said:
“The purpose is leaving an impression to survive as I cannot see our existence as eternal.”
His impression will survive. He will be remembered as the “irreplaceable Sheikh Nasser”. May his soul rest in peace.
Dubai, January 2021
Remembering Sheikh Nasser
I first met Sheikh Nasser in London in 1982, but got to know him when I was invited to help with his collection of manuscripts, for which I went to Kuwait regularly for years. I would see him there or in the UK when he was here.
Having known him for so many years, I can describe him as a man who embodied gentleness, kindness, generosity, humanity, attentiveness, thoughtfulness, care, joy of life, appreciation of art and whatever one did for him, and he had a great sense of humour. He always made one feel at ease in his company.
In Kuwait, in addition to seeing him in the office to discuss work, I was often invited to join their family lunches or occasionally he would order special meals to be sent to the office and join us.
I also remember my morning conversations with him on various subjects in their inner courtyard during the time I had been honoured to stay at the house in the late 90s.
When we were told the Iranian Foreign Minister was to visit the Collection with the Ambassador and Kuwaiti officials, I asked him how I was to dress. He looked at me and said ‘miniskirt’ and left. He must have realised that it would be my first encounter with the officials of the Islamic Government and naturally I would be worried about my appearance. Dear Hussa, always caring and attentive, called shortly afterwards to assure me that apart from not shaking hands, I should appear as I always did, for which I was most grateful.
In the UK, I was glad of the many opportunities to see him in the house ar which he stayed in Beaconsfield. He always came to the door welcoming his guests with his smile, first offering us fruit juice, discussing art and asking our opinions on the objects he had been offered. Lunches at the big table usually had a dish cooked by him. On one occasion he took me by the hand, led me to the kitchen and asked me to show his cooks how to make a Persian dish he had liked and had already bought the ingredients for.
The grand-fatherly joy he shared with me at the birth of the child of one of the Filipino members of the household was very moving.
On one of my last visits to him in Beaconsfield, he asked me if I knew what juice I was drinking. When I could not identify it, he told me it was the juice of pomegranates from one of his farms. I told him how much my grandsons loved pomegranates, and when I was leaving, he, as always, accompanied me to the car, where I found a bag of pomegranates. I should have remembered not to say I liked something to either dear Hussa or Sheikh Nasser, as, unfailingly, I would then be yet again a recipient of their kind generosity.
Manijeh Bayani Wolpert
Sheikh Nasser al-Ahmed al-Sabah: an appreciation
I first met Sheikh Nasser in 1978, over 40 years ago, when I was a junior assistant at Spink and Son Ltd, in London. He was acquiring objects and manuscripts for his collection, before the opening of the museum in 1983. Sheikh Nasser was always extremely genial and friendly when he visited, acknowledging all those around him however insignificant their status, which included me.
Spink had recently acquired an Arabic manuscript of immense historical importance. It was The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, by the metalworker al-Jazari, in a copy dated 1215 AD. This had formerly been in the Hagop Kevorkian Collection, and although some pages were dispersed, the bulk of the illustrations and the text remained intact. Sheikh Nasser knew all about the manuscript of course, and came in person to acquire it.
He negotiated gently but firmly with the director of the department, Adrian Maynard, and eventually the sale reached a conclusion satisfactory to all concerned. With his customary flair and good humour, Sheikh Nasser put a one pound note on the desk as a deposit for one of the most expensive manuscripts ever sold by Spink. His deposit was later framed and displayed in the director’s office and the story was re-told many times.
More recently, on a personal note, he was very kind and supportive towards my two sons and we will never forget him.
Sheikh Nasser was a man with an extraordinary eye and passion for the arts. My fond memory was of my first visit to meet Sheikh Nasser in Kuwait almost 20 years ago. I arrived at his beautiful house on the sea front where we spent several hours going through the treasures in his collection, which he carefully chose himself and presented on display trays to view together.
When lunchtime came, the front door rang and there was a fisherman with a huge basket of fresh fish and Sheikh Nasser asked me to choose what I would like from the basket for my lunch. Sheikh Nasser was a very warm and gentle man and always greeted me with such warmth every time I met him. Sheikh Nasser will be very much missed in our field of art and never forgotten and all his treasures will be his wonderful legacy.
Simon M. W. Ray
In 1998, Sheikh Nasser invited me to come to Kuwait to work on aspects of the collection, through the thoughtfulness of Katie Marsh and Sue Kaoukji in recommending me. Tucked away in the labyrinth of the museum, surrounded by works of art, it never occurred to me that one would see him on a daily basis.
However, he had a way of suddenly appearing without ceremony and fixing his eye on whatever it was one was researching – a habit that I recall being employed by Peter Wilson, chairman of Sotheby’s, in the 1970s. Formalities dispensed with, his innate charm and vivacity drew one in and drove his passion to get to the heart of the matter. Into the crucible were flung penetratingly relevant questions, humorous asides about buying trips to India, points on technical detail (that critical aspect of judging a work of art), coffee and cigarettes, and so an often-protracted discussion evolved, usually informed by the arrival of his then curator Manuel Keene.
It is rare enough for a single individual to form a national collection in the course of his lifetime, but Sheikh Nasser’s intimate knowledge of the many thousands of works in his collection, and his ability to expand his interests not only in Islamic Art but in the formation more recently of unique collections from the eastern provinces of the Ancient World were inspiring.
Collector of the truly choice
Sharp of eye, appreciative
Knew how to be in charge
And use his skills for good.
Splendour in crystal rock
Worn across lost boards
By a millennium of fingers
Graced his holdings;
Regal in regal surroundings
Catching the light
As they caught candlelight and taper
Chessmen, you might say,
As good as they come;
But none could touch the beauty
Of those wondrous ivory pieces
Tiny and intricate,
Polychrome over their smooth whiteness
Surpassing the chessmen of all Sind
Shattered then at an invader's hand
Strewn irretrievable about the garden
As if to nourish the greenery
With only a whisper left
of their former, ageless Majesty.
Dr Irving Finkel
Department of the Middle East
The British Museum
Sheikh Nasser al-Sabah was an astonishing phenomenon.
As a collector he possessed an enviable constellation of qualities - piercing historical insight, an unerring eye for quality, a sixth sense of what mattered and a sleepless determination to track it down. But he was very much more than a collector. He understood the wider implications of works of art as vehicles and mirrors of culture and civilisation, and he did all he could to make these treasures known to the widest possible public both in Kuwait itself and abroad. His imaginative sympathy extended across the entire Islamic world, and also embraced the art of the preceding civilisations so that the Islamic objects themselves could be fully contextualised.
For the global community of scholars dedicated to the study of Islamic art he has left a wonderful legacy – not only a collection whose scope, range and depth no private collector in the Arab world could match, but also a complementary administrative organisation of unique effectiveness and prestige. It is a tribute to the far-reaching vision of Sheikh Nasser and Sheikha Hussa that the wonderful objects in their constantly growing collection, with an expanding scholarly library and database to match, are made available for research by scholars from all over the world. Exhibitions, annual lecture programmes and publications galore have delighted many thousands of lovers of Islamic art across the globe for several decades and the multiple activities of his finest creation, the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, have conferred worldwide renown on Kuwait.
May his memory be a blessing.
I had the honour of knowing Sheikh Nasser during the archaeological excavation in Bahnassa - one of the many projects that reflected his role as a great patron. Sheikh Nasser always had a strong presence and discerning eyes. He always struck me as someone who truly sees what everyone is thinking and what is happening beyond the immediately visible. Modern and forward thinking, he was a voracious and courageous seeker of change for the better without fear.
Sheikh Nasser and Sheikha Hussa were at the root of a historical cultural wave. The Al-Sabah collection and the establishment of Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyya are the fruit of a wise vision - and the very first kernel of a very significant cultural transformation, which spearheaded the wave of museums that evolved consequently in the region. The extraordinary Al-Sabah collection and its touring exhibitions have contributed immensely to inspire and raise awareness worldwide as wonderful and significant ambassadors for Kuwait and Islamic culture.
When I think of Sheikh Nasser, the picture is of a formidable unit. It is of a husband whose wife shines without limits, which in itself says a lot about the man. Sheikh Nasser's humane qualities, his caring nature, and his kindness to the people entrusted to work for him are well known.
Sheikh Nasser is gone too soon. His earnest endeavour to make the world a better place left a remarkable impact that will shine forever.
Sheikh Nasser was among the most approachable and considerate of all the Ministers I have met during my time in Kuwait. He enjoyed interesting and lively conversation and was possessed of a sharp wit. We met for the first time shortly after his appointment as First Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister and only a week or two before a visit to Kuwait by his British homologue. He told me how much he was looking forward to their meeting. Welcoming his guest, Sheikh Nasser joked disarmingly that neither of them could know much about defence, given how recently they had both been appointed. However, adopting a studiedly serious mien, he informed his British colleague that he nonetheless had the edge over him. “How so?” asked his anxious counterpart. “Because I own one of the largest collections of weaponry anywhere in the world”, came the answer. Sheikh Nasser went on to say how familiar he was with the Wallace Collection, which his British counterpart appeared to be less conscious of. During my subsequent meetings with His Excellency he would tease me mercilessly by asking whether I had yet had the opportunity to take my minister to Manchester Square.
I am pleased to say that Sheikh Nasser found in other visitors from London readier interlocutors for discussion of Islamic culture, history and art. Their lively discussions and disquisitions would continue at length, often using up the time allotted without either having addressed either defence co-operation or any military matter at all. That said, during Sheikh Nasser’s time as Minister much progress was indeed made on military matters, especially during his highly successful visit to London in May 2019, when an important Joint Declaration was signed between Britain and Kuwait, forming the basis for co-operation ever since. Before the visit I had asked Sheikh Nasser if there was anything in particular he would like us to organise. Somewhat to my surprise he said he had never seen the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London. He later told me that his visit to the Tower had been the real highlight of his visit, so I am delighted we managed to fit that into his packed programme.
Sheikh Nasser was invariably both generous with his time and lavish with his hospitality for visiting British delegations. What struck one most on such occasions was his interest in everyone, regardless of rank or station. He would stay chatting with junior officials long after official talks had broken up, charming them with his humour and listening intently to their stories. He loved discussion and the open exchange of ideas, especially if they challenged established thinking. He will be very much missed by all who had the privilege to get to know him.
Michael Davenport | Her Majesty’s Ambassador
British Embassy Kuwait
Sheikh Nasser al-Sabah
Reflecting on my encounters with Sheikh Nasser, at wide intervals over the years, I am struck that in my memories he is always smiling, or laughing quietly at some absurdity of life, always with kindness.
He was an extraordinary collector in my own field of Moghul jewellery and jewelled artefacts, as the Treasury of the World exhibition of 2001 revealed. No exhibition before that had been exclusively devoted to the subject, and even specialists had never seen so many objects brought together to demonstrate the range and quality of the jewelled arts of the Moghuls. I vividly remember my intense frustration that the then V&A director could not find a suitable space in the museum when Sheikh Nasser offered this ground-breaking exhibition to us. But I remember equally vividly the intense excitement of being part of a small privileged group taken round the show before it opened at the British Museum by Manuel Keene, its curator. The early 17th century gold dagger and scabbard delicately inlaid with rubies, diamonds and emeralds, and the supremely important 249.3 carat spinel engraved with the titles of Timurid, Safavid and Moghul rulers, were among many outstanding objects.
The conference, and the publication that derived from it, were both sponsored by Sheikh Nasser and Sheikha Hussah al-Sabah, in a typical act of generosity indicating their acute awareness of the importance of scholarship. In Sheikh Nasser’s foreword to Jewelled Arts of Mughal India, the volume of conference papers, he expressed his strong desire that the exhibition and associated publication would generate an interest in the subject in the wider public. He also hoped that they would result in an ‘enhancement and intensification of scholarly and artistic studies in the area’. In both, his hopes would be realised, perhaps more than he could have imagined.
Only a very few of those who had the privilege to meet Sheikh Nasser al-Sabah became aware of his vast culture. Sheikh Nasser had that other rare quality: he was a truly modest man, as those who truly live their faith sometimes are. Steeped in classical Arabic literature, he made no show of it and expressed himself with elegant simplicity, occasionally allowing his vivid sense of humour to come through. Few people as cultivated as Sheikh Nasser was, wear their knowledge as lightly. A joie de vivre that never failed him made one forget how seriously he proceeded to attain his goals.
Deeply attracted to objets d’art from his world, he gradually attained the highest level of connoisseurship in the art of the Islamic civilizations and from there worked his way back through time to the Antiquity that preceded them. Partly through opportunity but largely due to deep personal inclination, he focussed in the main on the art of the Iranian world.
In the course of the sixty years or so during which I came across collectors, curators and professionals of every stripe involved in handling the art of the Islamic or Ancient Middle East, I met only one other man who responded as intensely to it. Sheikh Nasser will be remembered as the most perceptive collector in the Arab world, with a rare eye for sheer beauty. He was as ready to pounce on very fine pieces of limited commercial value, occasionally worth no more than a few dollars, as to draw on his vast means when the occasion required it. A highly gifted and marvellous man has just left this world.
Assadullah Souren Melikian-Chirvani
A Weekend with Sheikh Nasser
It was the summer of 1984 (?), a year or so after the extraordinary Al-Sabah collection of Islamic art had been inaugurated in Kuwait, when Sheikh Nasser asked me to come to his office in London to discuss some inlaid marble panels from Gujarat. During a lively conversation about life and art, Sheikh Nasser suddenly said that he was flying to Kuwait on Friday and would I like to come along and see the panels in person at the museum. Delighted to get away from London, I accepted his gracious invitation and early Friday morning the two of us took off on his private jet.
I had never spent much time alone with Sheikh Nasser but I soon found he was a great travelling companion and easy to talk to. I remember that he seemed interested in the fact that I was born on the banks of the Missisippi River and that my grandfather had built a log cabin in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri where I had spent every summer of my childhood. He also wanted to know why I had chosen to spend my life in India researching and reviving traditional Mughal arts and crafts.
Suddenly, the plane descended and we landed in Geneva. Perhaps, for refueling or for Sheikh Nasser to meet someone. In any case, just as we were about to continue our journey, we were summoned to the airport Customs Office. Two smiling Swiss officials greeted us and they rather ceremoniously poured out the contents of a leather pouch onto the desktop which they had discovered in a briefcase on the plane. I was astonished to see a small mound of sparkling flat cut diamonds. I recognized them immediately as ‘polkis’, as they are known in India, where they are used in the traditional setting of jewellery, arms and armour and works of art. The officials politely asked Sheikh Nasser what they were.
They only spoke French and Sheikh Nasser asked how fluent my French was. I said it’s pretty rusty but I’ll give it a try and began explaining that the stones were antique flat cut diamonds from Mughal India, more than four hundred years old, and that they were part of Sheikh Nasser’s personal collection and that he was taking them home to have them set into pieces of jewellery for the family. That seemed to satisfy them and we got back on the plane and took off for Kuwait, amused but also relieved to be on our way. My weekend adventure had begun.
Arriving in Kuwait in the early evening, I was dropped off at the hotel excited about the next morning’s visit to see the inlaid panels and the legendary collection. At nine, an official car arrived spot on time to take me to the museum. The first few hours were spent wandering from one aesthetic shock after the other…so many treasures from the earliest roots of Islamic art and culture and the centuries that followed. I also got to examine the inlaid panel and had a rather spirited discussion with one of the curators about their date which often happens when two people who each think they know more than the other collide. It was mid-afternoon when I made the ill-considered decision to return to the hotel to get my camera which I had forgotten. I thought I’ll just slip out and grab a cab without bothering anyone.
On leaving the museum, I was nearly blinded by the glaring light of one of the hottest days of summer and started walking down the wide avenue. I soon noticed that every building was closed and there were no cars, no taxis and no shade on the street. I kept going but the 55 degree temperature soon began to take its toll and I started to feel more than a little disoriented and dehydrated. I had gone too far and don’t think I could have made it back to the museum. I began to lean against a traffic light at a major intersection when a car pulled up and a foreign lady, seeing my state, barked, ‘Get in the car’! Unquestioningly, I obeyed and welcomed the blast of cool air as I squeezed in. She asked where I was staying and why I was wandering around at this time of day like a madman and proceeded to drop me off at my hotel. I never got her name or nationality but to this day, I’m forever grateful for being rescued.
I returned to London the next evening on a commercial flight and on my way to the airport, I dropped by Sheikh Nasser’s office to thank him for his gracious Kuwaiti hospitality. He laughed heartily when I told him how I had almost passed out on the streets of the city and told me to be more careful next time.
As they say so eloquently in Persian, ‘his place is empty’. Indeed, Sheikh Nasser will be missed on so many levels and by so many people. They don’t make them like that anymore, and I will always treasure the memory of ‘My Weekend with Sheikh Nasser’!
Mitch Abdul Karim Crites
Delhi, 14 January 2021
To write a remembrance of Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah is not an easy task. I cannot state that the frequent meetings we had in Kuwait during the almost past twenty years have changed my life, but certainly those meetings made it a better one. The occasions in which I had the privilege of sitting close to him in Mahbula and later on in Yarmuck, have always been important moments.
To write and acknowledge that Sheikh Nasser has been a genial collector is a commonplace, but also an incontrovertible truth. Such as the fact that them (because it is impossible for me to divide Sheikh Nasser from his love, wife and companion Sheikha Hussa) have been true pioneers in the Gulf – and not only there – of the rediscovery, if not discovery tout court, of Islamic Art. All the others followed this path.
But it is not the great and refined collector that I want to remember here, but the Man. The man I have seen and met. I am only a little piece of a great mosaic puzzle that he sketched. Sheikh Nasser wasn’t a simple person, although he was an easy man. I am trying to say that despite his unbelievable knowledge in so many fields, he had no need to brag about it. Not humble, absolutely not. But easy: he had the noble gift of putting people at their ease, and this was coming to him naturally, without any effort and without posture. And his always careful glance, full of his fantastic irony.
The first time I met him in Mahbula, many years ago, I was a bit frighten by this meeting; I remember that Sue, my incredible and dearest Madame Sue, simply told me: “Do not pretend with him: be what you are!” And I always followed this suggestion. I also remember with a smile and great nostalgia so many meetings in which as usual I was dressed with gaudy colors and my bow ties, and combinations probably not so orthodox, and crossing his sight at the very beginning a bit ironic if not perplexed, but I am sure a peculiar one. He was a curious man, again a gift no one can teach you. Then his sight has been in a way transformed: he looked at me and was nodding, like the confirmation of a thought, never a judgement; I like thinking that he was happy to find me back as I was.
My meetings with Sheikh Nasser have been more than nice. I never felt myself questioned or under trial (as it was common with other collectors and even colleagues; it would not be fair to mention their names…), but on a common field in which you could interact, even speaking freely and without limits, because always Sheikh Nasser was putting me ta complete ease. Probably I told him several nonsense, but he never made me feel out of place: he accepted different opinions, maybe calling you “stupid”, but I never thought he was offensive, it was confidence, something precious.
An indelible remembrance is one of his visits in Mahbula; I don’t know for what reasons he asked to open the drawers with jewels which were at the back of Sue’s chair. He started to open them and to show those masterpieces to me and I started to cry, slowly and without any noise; a big emotion and a lost of control; frankly a bit embarrassing. He noticed it, of course, but went on explaining so many details and stories. He had a prodigious memory and an immeasurable knowledge, matched only by his human sensitiveness. That human sensitiveness is something you cannot learn: you have it or not. That day I felt so close to him in the contemplation of beauty. Unforgettable.
I know that in many respects I have had a very lucky life. Even because I had the fortune of meeting such an extraordinary Man. True. It is impossible to forget him and it is mandatory to honour his legacy. His passage on earth and his message cannot be disregarded. I am sure that the Beauty which has been his best companion throughout his life will be with him for eternity. Amen.
Florence, January 2021
When I think about Sheikh Nasser his kindness comes to mind. In February 1983, the National Museum of Kuwait opened and many of us were not only invited to the opening but Sheikh Nasser sent us an airplane to pick us up and, after the festivities, to take us home. I was 30 at the time, Bashir’s secretary at Spinks, and shy and insecure.
The opening was memorable because the collection was the first important private/museum collection to be formed and then exhibited after the World of Islam Festival in London in 1975. It was of course a wonderful collection, now partly on loan to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, but I am ashamed to say it wasn’t the art that I remember but the party and the people which fascinated/terrified me. Gennady Zalkowitsch doing press-ups in the airplane's aisle. Jennifer Scarce belly dancing at one of the parties where I sat in silence at a table with bejewelled and turbaned Maharajas (probably as shy as me), the super glamorous Princess Ezra Jah and Oliver Hoare - these were just a few of my impressions.
Eventually, I was overwhelmed and so hid in my hotel room. Sheikh Nasser rang me and when I pretended mild illness, he offered to send me his doctor because he was concerned. I tell this story because a man who must have had a myriad of responsibilities on his mind had the kindness to check up on a 30-year-old nobody-of-a-secretary. It was very sweet and I never forgot.
Some forty years ago, Sheikh Nasser, on one of his visits to the gallery I had at the time in St James’s, London, told me that his wife, Sheikha Hussa, had a diamond ring and asked if I had ever seen one. As a member of a fourth-generation jewellery family, this seemed an odd question. I replied that yes, of course, I had seen a diamond ring. “I am sure you haven’t”, he countered. The more I insisted that I was well acquainted with diamond rings, the more he said that he doubted me. Eventually, he said that he would see if his wife could come and show it to me. A few days later, Sheikha Hussa kindly came in and showed me her diamond ring. It was a complete hoop of diamond, a large, flat, single diamond with a finger-sized hole through the middle of it. A glittering, faceted hoop. It had been made by one of the major jewellery houses earlier on the century. A truly remarkable object.
It is a simple story, but it sums up much of what I recall of Sheikh Nasser: a love of beauty and rarity, an enthusiasm for jewellery and an engaging sense of humour. There is a sad addendum to the story because I believe that this ring was one of the objects never recovered after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Now too Sheikh Nasser has gone, an even rarer gem, but he leaves many fond memories among those who were privileged to know him and, of course, the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah which houses his and Sheikha Hussa’s incredible collections. He was a visionary and pioneer in collecting Islamic art and the first to establish a major centre in the Gulf to study, preserve and display it. He will be greatly missed and never forgotten.
31 December 2020
Due to his frail health, Robert Skelton was unable to contribute personally, but his son Oliver Skelton kindly went through his father's computer to extract some quotes:
To: Katie Marsh 16-Apr-2013
As for Nasser - he has the eye of a deadly accurate marksman and I think that I shall have to pat him on the shoulder separately. The later objects in the catalogue are excellent examples of great things that we are familiar with but the brutal power of some of the earlier things is spectacular and the catalogue makes this very clear.
To: Romila Thapar 4-Jun-2013
Nasser himself does now collect superb early things and has become very knowledgeable about them but largely antiquities from Central Asia.
To Elise Morero 7-Dec-2014
I had lunch with Sheikh Nasser, son of the Amir of Kuwait today. He is an old friend and a great collector of Mughal and other types of Asian art.
To Katie Marsh 24-Nov-2015
Re: Sheikh Nasser:
Some people are born with a very good eye whereas there are others who don't. He has that talent in bucket loads …
To Brendan Lynch 14-Mar-2017
My earlier close connection with Sheikh Nasser, included being one of the team who went to Baghdad at the end of the first Gulf war under the leadership of Katie Marsh. I was the courier, who took his looted jewels back to him from a bombed damaged military airfield in Iraq. As you can imagine, his wife and her police escort were very pleased to see me when the small Russian executive jet and Czech crew landed us in Kuwait.
My introduction to Sheikh Nasser came in the late 1990s, perhaps rather fittingly through a project related to the al-Sabah Collection. It was a couple of years before beginning my doctoral program, and I was working in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Islamic Department as a research assistant to Stefano Carboni (then an Associate Curator) on Glass of the Sultans and The Legacy of Genghis Khan. Stefano had been commissioned to write a catalogue on Islamic glass in the al-Sabah Collection, the first publication in the Collection’s continuing series, and hired me to assist him as an adjunct editor.
I have wonderful memories of working early mornings and late evenings on that project with Stefano, during which I learned much about Sheikh Nasser's enthusiasm for collecting through the extraordinary objects selected for the book and the many stories recounted by Stefano about his trips to Kuwait and Sheikh Nasser’s continuing stream of additions to the near finished catalogue as he acquired new works.
Over the years, the al-Sabah Collection’s publications have served me in my research as a graduate student and curator, and I am grateful for the opportunities I had to meet Sheikh Nasser and Sheikha Hussah during graduate school and as a curator at the British Museum. While I did not have the privilege of knowing Sheikh Nasser on a personal level, I do remember learning from Sheikha Hussah about all that went into the care, protection, and preservation of the collection over the years. What will always stand out most to me is the portrait of Sheikh Nasser the passionate collector, whose dynamic love of objects and the Islamic world continues to energise the work so many of us do in this field today.
Ladan Akbarnia PhD
Curator, South Asian and Islamic Art
The San Diego Museum of Art
It is with great sadness I learned we have lost Sheikh Nasser – He has, so to say, been with me in all my professional life since I started at the David Collection in 1984.
Only one year older than me, he had then already opened his own magnificent museum in 1983 – a collection he and his wife Sheikha Hussa had created from scratch. A truly impressive effort anywhere and a pioneering model in the region; a model which obviously has been and still is a great inspiration throughout the Arab Peninsula and the Islamic World.
The collection in Kuwait brilliantly reveals the eye of a true connoisseur, and during a visit to Kuwait this was paired with an overwhelming openness and generosity.
The dedication with which the rich, still growing holdings of the collection are being published is exemplary and inspiring, and it is only to be hoped that the museum soon will reopen after the sad and destructive set back caused by the Gulf War. The world deserves to see and experience the legacy of a great collector and a great culture.
I only wish I had been among the many people who knew Sheik Nasser better.
Kjeld von Folsach
The David Collection, Copenhagen
I was sad to hear the news about Sheikh Nasser. Although I did not know him personally, I am very aware of his great achievement in putting together the magnificent Al-Sabah collection of antiquities and Islamic art. Collected with love, knowledge and an excellent eye, I believe the collection set a benchmark for all the other Islamic art collections that have since been assembled in neighbouring countries.
His determination to continue, together with Sheikha Hussah, with collecting, exhibiting and publishing, even after the traumatic events of the Iraqi invasion, can only be greatly admired and applauded. I would like to extend my deepest condolences to Sheikha Hussah and the rest of the family, hoping that they will find some comfort and solace in the knowledge that Sheikh Nasser’s legacy will continue to enrich the lives of people for generations to come.
I am sorry to hear of the death of Sheikh Nasser in December. What a loss not just for his many friends and associates but for Kuwait as well.
I only met Sheikh Nasser once during the time I was in Kuwait with Martha Carter working on the important Sasanian pieces in the Collection. What was immediately apparent to me was his interest in and fascination with the amazing array of objects he had acquired. He wanted to know about our thoughts and ideas and obviously enjoyed broadening the collection beyond the limits of the Islamic period to include masterpieces from earlier millennia.
Sheikh Nasser also clearly took pleasure in welcoming and interacting with the scholars and scientists who came from all over the world to work on parts of the Collection and made a personal effort to meet and talk with them.
I do not myself know what led to his wide-ranging interests but his accuity and sincerity in establishing an ancient Near Eastern art collection and having it properly documented by a wide range of experts has surely made Kuwait another center for the study and appreciation of the lands and cultures of the ancient Near Eastern world. For that we can all be thankful.
When I first visited the al-Sabah Collection of pre-Islamic Asian antiquities in Kuwait in the year 2007, I was overwhelmed by the excellence and scope of the art that I found. I had not yet met Sheikh Nasser, but I could see that he was a person of great discernment and willingness to collect in areas of Asian art that were relatively unknown.
I had spent my academic career studying the influence of Greek art in Asia, and, in this collection, I found an unparalleled treasure of ancient artworks that began with the Greeks in Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, and continued up to the Islamic Age. Later, when I met the Sheikh, I could see that he not only radiated great charm, but also an intense enthusiasm for collecting.
I was happy to oblige him with a catalogue of some of his treasures. While writing the catalogue, my biggest problem was that the Sheikh kept acquiring more and more incredibly fine objects, necessitating constant additions to the volume. We who are students of Late Antique Asian art will miss him greatly. He had an unerring eye and a willingness to collect the art of newly discovered areas of historical importance in Asia.
I only met Sheikh Nassser on one occasion at his country house in England, but was impressed with his informality and his knowledge, seeing him excitedly examine some objects brought for him to consider that autumnal Sunday afternoon. And then, in May 2018, I was fortunate to be invited to Kuwait and form some idea of what treasures he had amassed through the years.
On view in the temporary exhibition space in the Historic Americani Hospital Building were the splendid Hellenistic dishes and other silver objects that Sheikh Nasser had collected after his interest had shifted to the pre-Islamic periods of Middle Eastern history.
And at Yarmouk Cultural Centre I had the privilege of inspecting for myself some marvellous Indian Islamic objects, notably the 1,000-mohur of the Mughal emperor Jahangir. Previously, my encounter with this legendary ceremonial medallion was limited to a gilded imitation in the British Museum, not at all the same experience, especially since Sheikh Nasser’s 21 centimetre-diameter original weighed a mighty 12 kilograms of solid gold!
London, December 2020
Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmad al Sabah: Encounters
Summer 2002. Encounters often unfold their significance a considerable amount of time after they have taken place. I learned of a surprise visit of Sheikh Nasser’s to the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin a few hours after his actual arrival from London. We first encountered each other in the galleries on the Museumsinsel, or Museum Island. I never imagined him to be like this, a little white semi circular cap on a round head, casual, a tracksuit top over matching trousers with white trainers.
During our first tour through the exhibits it was not the descriptions whose content aroused his curiosity. His questions were directed to the provenance of the objects: who was the previous owner? Who was behind the “Collection Figdor, Vienna”? Which objects had Friedrich Sarre brought to Berlin from 1894 onwards? Which were Wilhelm von Bode’s carpets, which stood out to him from the assessment of many paintings in Italian churches and European princely houses? He wanted to be inspired and learn through this wide-ranging contemplation. His acquisitions were brought into the conversation, barely disguised. Whether he was really interested in the assessment of the person questioned, was not certain. It could however have been of general interest to him. He considered research in the natural sciences with great respect.
During ten years in which I could experience the enormous expansion from strictly the Islamic world up to antiquity, I admired his decisiveness, supported by the knowledge of his closest collaborators Sue Kaoukji, and until his departure, Manuel Keene. In our Volume II- “Pre-Islamic Carpets and Textiles from Eastern Lands” he reached the zenith of his collection of carpets. Beyond classical examples he had expanded the history of carpets with about twenty-five knotted carpet fragments: these Persian-Sasanid carpets are now a new group with a home in Kuwait.
During my visits to Kuwait Sheikh Nasser enquired each time with a personal question about the progress of my work. On these occasions I was always informed about his latest treasures which currently occupied him. I have always found these exchanges to be very stimulating and valued them.
Sheikh Nasser’s great passion was for gemstones, and particularly Mughal Indian jewellery. The catalogue produced for his magnificent collection, “Schatzhaus der Welt”, or “Treasures of the World” is a masterpiece, and accompanied numerous special exhibitions in many museums around the world.
Beyond this he was enthusiastic as a collector in the areas of Pre-Islamic and “antique” art and archaeology. Here also he had the conviction that, as opposed to a European or American collection, he ought to offer his collection to the home where it belonged. A better home could actually not be found, because in Kuwait, his home, it is treasured and considered, and looked after with great love. We can be proud of his achievements, his provisions guarantee the collection’s secure survival in the Orient.
Dr. Friedrich Spuhler
I remember meeting Sheikh Nasser. It must have been 1984, in the warehouse at Christie’s. At that stage our Islamic department was so much less important than the opposition, but he wanted to see what we had. Although it was the head of the department who was showing him round, he made a point of including me in the conversation, discussing with me a finely engraved copper bowl that had taken his fancy. It is now in the collection (LNS 263 M).
Most of all it is his ebullience that comes to mind, his enthusiasm for art, for taking enjoyment from life, and from interacting with people in his delightfully informal way. I have many memories of his sitting on the sofa, either at Mahboula or more recently in Yarmouk, playing with objects, loving to discuss them, their intricacies, and indeed at times their attributions. He loved challenging me with things at the periphery of what I knew. All this was done without any malice at all, just the pure enjoyment of playing with, and learning about these extraordinary items he had collected.
For me, however, the visit that comes foremost to my mind was one where I was on a fleeting visit to Kuwait. It was about 5-8 years ago, and I had made an appointment to see him in his grand elevated position of head of the Amiri Diwan. I presented myself at the Palace, was shown to the correct building and then along long corridors until I eventually reached his office. We had half an hour together, discussing various things. As I walked away, I felt that it was fine as a meeting, I was glad to have paid my respects, but felt that it had not really “worked” – we were both in a relatively formal mode, not an aspect of Sheikh Nasser that I was used to. “Oh well”, I thought, “good to have said hello,” and headed on to my next client.
Half an hour later as I was driving, my phone rang. It was Sheikh Nasser. “William, we are going to have some fun, clear your afternoon!”. For me this was easy, but I do not like to think how complicated that was for him. Anyway, an hour later we were driving together, first to a warehouse full of Indian architectural elements, spending time envisaging how they could be used and which could go together. We were indeed having fun – this is a task both of us clearly relished. We then drove down to Mahboula where everybody assembled, we had a delicious late lunch, and then spent the afternoon discussing objects that he had recently bought, some of which I had never previously seen the like of. It was such an enjoyable afternoon, all the more so for being completely unanticipated. And for me the whole way it panned out summed up so many of the qualities that made Sheikh Nasser such a wonderful man.
I was in Kuwait again in December and, although Sheikh Nasser was not well enough to receive visitors, I was touched that he made frequent enquiries about my wellbeing while I was there, so typically considerate, especially bearing in mind his own condition.
I was truly saddened to learn of Sheikh Nasser’s passing. It was my great pleasure to have met him several times while studying his collection and I always found his humble and affable demeanour very endearing. And what a collection! The sumptuous publications that have appeared these last few years only confirm that in addition to the Islamic art collection, for which he is duly well known, his ancient art holdings are also truly world class.
The earliest works of art from the ancient Near East are particularly compelling, including the extraordinary Mesopotamian copper and silver stands, one in the form of a goat and one of a bearded deity, both from the Early Dynastic period. Further to the East, and a complete revelation to me, is the composite figure of a lioness, likely from the Oxus region because of the method of its construction. This is a significantly larger version of her more famous sister, which forces one to reassess the date and origins to which it had been traditionally assigned by generations of scholars.
The collection of works from the Iron Age, especially the silver vessels from the Neo-Elamite world, are second to none. A personal favourite is the rhyton in the form of two heraldic lions. Another major group are the parcel gilt silver vessels from the Hellenized East, the most important of which is perhaps the large dish with a bust of Dionysos protruding from the tondo. Outstanding works from the 1stmillennium A.D. include the large Sasanian bronze figure of a lady, bedecked in elaborate headdress and robes, or the South Arabian bronze figure of a young man wearing the armour more typically associated with Rome. Jewellery from all periods, including seals, is another noteworthy component of the collection. Here it would be hard to choose a favourite, but the Sasanian carnelian intaglio portrait of King Peroz is a stand out.
This amazing assembly of ancient objects will endure as a worthy testament to a truly great collector. While I will always have the memory of having had the privilege to handle each and every one of these works of art, most important of all is the cherished memory of sitting opposite Sheikh Nasser at his desk, while he handed me recent acquisitions, a memory for me even more precious than the objects themselves.
International Specialist Head of Department,
I remember Sheikh Nasser with enormous respect. On the occasions when I met him over the years, he was always extremely friendly, open and kind, and full of enthusiasm and curiosity. He was one of the great pioneer collectors of Islamic art in modern times and his legacy and that of the incredible collections he built up will be profound and long-lasting.
Former Head of Islamic Department, Sotheby's
When I met Sheikh Nasser for the first time, I had already heard a great deal about him. I do not mean the obvious enthusiastic experiences of art historians dealing with the al-Sabah Collection with which he and Sheikha Hussa expanded the world of Islamic art. I mean rather individual and personal experiences of people who had the opportunity to know Sheikh Nasser as a remarkable personality.
I met him only a few times during my work in Kuwait on the metalwork collection. I found him very charming man and great company, without the vanity of status. It was easy to feel comfortable sitting and chatting with him on so many interesting things. He was full of genuine and refreshing enthusiasm for the art objects we were discussing and exploring. Most of all, I rarely knew someone so much loved by those who worked with him. When we talked about subjects related to Egypt, I felt a brotherly connection with him sharing the same hopes, worries and love for the country.
I had so much wished to see him again and hear of what he thinks of the forthcoming catalogue on the al-Sabah metalwork. It is very sad he is gone so early.
At the ceremony of the opening of the exhibition “Masterpieces of Islamic Art in the Hermitage Museum” in Kuwait in 1990 Sheikh Nasser approached me and exclaimed: “Do you know what you have done for us?” He was very excited and looked very happy. When we met again later, he explained that to see the famous bronzes and other Islamic objects from the Hermitage Museum on exhibition in Kuwait was his dream and it had now been realised.
I was later invited to Kuwait by Sheikha Hussa al-Sabah to give a lecture on the Islamic objects in the Hermitage. This was a wonderful opportunity to see the al-Sabah collection in the storage. That day, I again met Sheikh Nasser, and it was such an honour that he showed me the most precious objects of his collection, those he was especially proud of. He started with a very small double page with zodiac images which he had kept in its stained and damaged condition, and handed it to me with great admiration. I still remember the expression on his face. Probably the words, which I pronounced, looking at these fragile pages with wonderful tiny drawings, coincided with his own feelings because soon I was invited to work (with Manijeh Bayani) on the collection of Iranian manuscripts, miniatures and drawings acquired by him and Sheikha Hussa.
For me this meeting with Sheikh Nasser was very important, cardinally changing my attitude to those who collect. Now I could distinguish true collectors from the dealers, and from those who spoiled so many precious works of art, disjointing the manuscripts and the albums, splitting the pages etc.
I also have enormous pleasure when I recall a further meeting with Sheikh Nasser in St Petersburg. I spent the whole day acting as his guide around the Hermitage Museum, showing him what he wanted to see, as well as what I wanted to show him. It was a wonderful experience to discuss our collections with such an erudite and sensitive connoisseur.
Dr Adel Adamova
Curator of the Iranian Collection
The State Hermitage Museum
Sheikh Nasser – an extraordinary human being. A great collector, an extraordinary human being and a man who never forgot his origins.
I like to think of him as a friend rather than the great collector that he was. He was a man of immense charm, a fantastic sense of humour and always a joy to be with. He was a character unlike any other and we always imagined him arriving at the shop, getting off his camel and behaving just as normal. Never a handshake with him, always a big hug. He will be remembered fondly by all of us.
S. J. Phillips Limited
26 Bruton Street
London W1J 6QL
Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Sabah
It has been more than twenty years since Thames & Hudson published the first volume in the series of catalogues that celebrates the Al-Sabah Collection. In that time, we have come to appreciate the true, deep passion that Sheikh Nasser possessed for historic Islamic heritage, and for the arts of world culture more broadly. It has been and continues to be an immense privilege to publish the collection, and we remain ever conscious of the precious and lasting legacy that it represents. The following words from Jamie Camplin, Thames & Hudson’s Editorial and Managing Director (1979–2013), pay tribute to Sheikh Nasser on behalf of all at the company, past and present, who will continue to remember him with huge admiration and profound respect.
‘I have been much saddened to hear of the death of Sheikh Nasser. While I am not qualified to write of his multifarious achievements in many diverse areas of public life, national and international, I had an immediate and very clear reaction to his qualities when I first met him to discuss a series of publications on Islamic art twenty years ago.
‘This reaction had two elements. The first was purely intuitive but obvious. This was someone who had a total passion for the remarkable artifacts created over such a long period by Islamic civilization. Before we can study, we should wonder. The second was analytical. It was perfectly plain that the study was to be one of painstaking scholarship of great thoroughness, with the opportunity for the finest scholars to build upon the foundations of their knowledge to make important new contributions.
‘It was further apparent that this was to be no short-term endeavour and though I have long since retired from my role as publisher at Thames & Hudson, I am happy at this otherwise sad time to see how the values embodied in Sheikh Nasser’s approach have resulted in an enduring and influential monument to the arts of civilization.’
Editorial and Managing Director (1979-2013)
Thames & Hudson
I met Sheikha Hussa and Sheikh Nasser in Istanbul with my friend Esra Jah when my husband was Consul General of Greece in the early eighties. I had heard about them and had seen many of the objects they were buying in London as most of their dealers were also our friends.
Their joy of life, love of family and friends as well as their commitment to knowledge and their efforts to communicate the manifestations of Islam's achievements through its visual arts was unravelled at the opening of their museum in Kuwait. We had such fun and we learned so much during our few days in Kuwait. I thought their museum was truly fantastic, the best of its kind in the world. The objects were beautifully displayed and clearly explained. The Metropolitan Museum had just opened its new Islamic galleries but Hussa and Nasser's museum was even more exciting as many objects were unknown and opened new horizons into Islamic culture. This stimulating aesthetic experience was paired with a joy of life that we all experienced at dinner at their home. My dear friend Maryam Massoudi and myself can never forget the elegance of movements in Hussa and Sheikha's dancing dialogue, which we tried to imitate but not as successfully. Nasser was talking to all his guests accepting the compliments with an amazing modesty. Tragically, the vandalism and destruction of the museum during the Iraqi invasion destroyed Hussa's and Nasser's vision, and the world was poorer in values and humanity.
But Nasser never gave up. He had such a belief in life and its mysteries and the betterment that art could bring to our lives that he continued to collect, guided by his refined sense of beauty and the ability to find or recognise an object or a fragment of historic or aesthetic importance.
He kept adding new finds to his magnificent Islamic collections which Hussa would take on and organise with her team in a rational manner, so that their historical importance and their beauty would do what art has always done: improve our lives, give us dignity, joy, beauty and respect for humanity. Nasser had an instinctive sense of these values which he was decoding through his collections. Soon Islam was accompanied by the cultural influences of its origins as Nasser branched out to include Sassanian, Achaemenid and finally Greece in Asia. The aesthetic and human values of these contribuant cultures to Islam were hidden in the objects he discovered in places like Kirghizstan, or some oasis on the Silk Road. Fragments and objects that had lost their identity and past which he and Hussa were about to revive.
I used to see Hussa a few times a year. Some years more than others. Nasser was rarely present. I would hear the echoes of his travels and discoveries from Hussa and from Sue, and would often be privileged to admire the new arrivals to their collections.
With Nasser I always had unexpected encounters, in the lobby of a hotel or at a dealer's hide away or shop in a bazaar, somewhere in Syria, Istanbul, Delhi or Jaipur. He was always pleased to see me as he knew that I loved the same things he did. He would instantly open his bag that was always carried by someone near him to show me the 'catch' of the day. What exactly the fragments he so lovingly collected was not yet clear. Nasser instinctively knew that he was holding a 'treasure' that will add an idea or belief to our understanding of a culture. He was holding yet another pebble in the multicoloured mosaic of human history.
While in Delhi during the days my husband was posted there as Ambassador I would bump into Nasser at Padma's or Bharany's at Sunder Nagar. He would never call to say he would be arriving and would never accept invitations. What he enjoyed was to be the Nomad of the World. In one of these unexpected encounters at Padma's he was considering a beautiful ruby necklace with melon shaped beads which he immediately put around my neck, telling me how wonderful it would look on Hussa and he was right.
Nasser did not appreciate formalities. He was someone you might come across during your travels and, though happy to see you, he just as unexpectedly moved on. His retreat would always leave a 'carved' almost tactile memory of his passage which was always full of 'light' and wonder as you never knew where he came from or where he was going.
I will miss Nasser. I consider myself truly blessed to have met him.
Dr Helen Philon
I wish I had known Sheikh Nasser properly, as my interactions with him were few and mostly very short. Except for the really remarkable trip that William Robinson and I made to Kuwait in 2000 to value his Indian jewels for the British Museum exhibition.
This was one of the highlights of my 42 years at Christie’s.
My passion for Indian jewels really began in 1990 when I was asked to appraise 80 jewels from the collection of the Nissam of Hyderabad, which we went on to sell very successfully in Geneva.
At that point in my career, I confess to having very little knowledge or experience of the subject just an abundance of enthusiasm.
The turning point came with the trip to Kuwait and the fascinating week that William and I spent with Sheikh Nasser looking at tray after try of his exceptional early Indian jewels.
Every day Sheikh Nasser would spend a few hours with us discussing the pieces in great depth. We were in reality receiving tutorials from arguably the foremost authority on Islamic jewels. Realising the unique privilege, I took copious notes and quickly sketched the details of 17th century jewels and objects with Sheikh Nasser’s comments explaining why one piece was early 17th century and comparing with another similar item that might be 100 years later.
I still have all of these notes, which are to this day a precious resource for my understanding of this wonderful subject. I learned so much in that short week that boosted my knowledge of early 17th century Jewels to a level that few could aspire to.
The fact is, that we rarely came across early Indian jewels and to see so many of the finest examples all in one week was unique. With our teacher so freely imparting his hard-earned knowledge, I will always be forever grateful to Sheikh Nasser, an exceptional expert, generously sharing his passion for the subject that I love.
A small tribute to Sheikh Nasser
Many years ago, I indirectly met Sheikh Nasser when I was asked to help in setting up a collection of ancient glass for him to view at Christie’s. Since then, on occasions, I have been asked to look at mostly silver objects that he was thinking of acquiring for his collection; as I am an antiquities restorer who specialises in ancient metal work.
Most recently I was asked to clean and restore a very fine 8th century Islamic Bronze ewer inlayed with copper and silver. This was one of his favourite objects and I was lucky enough to be asked to work on it. It was a difficult and time-consuming project as the silver inlays were very fragile and a large number of them had to be reset into their grooves. The time and effort spent was rewarding as the ewer transformed in appearance.
The Sheikh was following the restoration with interest during his illness, but unfortunately, he did not quite see the finished results due to his death just before it was finished.
He will be much missed as a collector and also as a person.
My abiding memory of Sheikh Nasser is of his energy, his enthusiasm and passion for the object, in addition to an extraordinary ability to seek out the best, the most interesting and the utterly beautiful. This was so clear in the museum in Kuwait where the story of Islamic art unfolded case by case – each object a discovery and a link in the narrative. It was such a privilege for me to spend those months there all that time ago –I learnt so much - and through the exhibitions and scholarly publications over the years, so many of these objects have become so iconic that you cannot explain Islamic art history without them.
Where I began to understand further the sheer depth of Sheikh Nasser’s passion and the importance of his project, was when I was lucky enough to witness the installation of Treasury of the World at the British Museum. It was the critical mass of objects that was so breathtaking , each a link in the chain, with the ability to explain in such a comprehensive way the story of that branch of Mughal art from the stones to the techniques of carving and setting. You saw how the public marvelled at these objects - what a privilege for the museum this was. I saw that enthusiasm again more recently, when Sheikh Nasser’s interest had turned to the antiquities of Yemen, and learnt how he would often come to the museum to look at his favourite objects.
I have the letter that you sent me when I was lucky enough to join the British Museum fulltime. It was the experience in your museum that gave me the courage to apply for the job which 30 years later, I am fortunate enough still to have. It was your kind invitation to work with Professor Ahmad Zayla‘i on the gravestones in the collection that led me to fall in love with the Arabic script. This is something that has never left me and that time in Kuwait, staying in Bait al-Badr is very precious to me.
So many of us all over the world are deeply indebted to the work you and Sheikh Nasser have done together, providing real inspiration for the future. The belief that art has the power to make a difference and create dialogue is something we all share.
Remembering the 1983 Opening of Kuwait’s National Museum of Islamic Art
Imagine my excitement and surprise when out of the blue I received an invitation to the festivities surrounding the opening of Kuwait’s National Museum of Islamic Art, including a first-class air ticket, from a generous benefactor that I had never met – Sheikh Nasser Saba al-Ahmed. At the time I was working as an archaeological advisor to the National Museum, Sana’a. I had helped Dr Marilynn Jenkins and her partner, Professor Ma’an Medina the previous summer when they had visited Yemen and I had understood that Marilynn was fully engaged in the Kuwait museum project and had come to Yemen on a fact-finding mission. As usual I was only too happy to share my enthusiasm for all things Yemeni, never envisaging that their ‘thank you’ would be an invitation to the Kuwait opening.
Towards the end of that February I left for Kuwait – a city that I had last visited in December 1969, by road from Baghdad – then a must go to destination for shopping, as Baghdad’s supermarket shelves were sparsely stocked. By 1983 the cityscape had changed and I found myself in a modern metropolis. The next few days were fully occupied with a whirlwind of events, receptions, lunches, dinners, the opening itself and a boat trip to visit archaeological sites on the island of Failaka – here the distant boom of heavy mortars were a constant reminder of the devastating Iran Iraq war continuing not so far away as we were all enjoying ourselves.
The whole occasion was an extraordinary platform for meeting all the experts in the field of Islamic art – especially for someone so firmly rooted in archaeology. I confess to having worked for several seasons in the Umayyad levels on the Amman citadel, but the finds were mundane every day wares – certainly not of museum quality. One guest who stuck in my mind was George Scanlon, famed for his work at Fustat, but also a professor at AUC. I vowed then that if I ever found myself living in Cairo I would sign up to do an MA with him. Which is precisely what happened 6 years later, so I could claim my venture into the Islamic world is all down to Sheikh Nasser!
The museum was breath taking, with state of the art showcases and displays. A far cry from our makeshift displays back in Sana’a. I learned that Sheikh Nasser had generously loaned part of this relatively new collection, largely acquired from western art markets, Egypt, Syria and India, to the state – this was the first Islamic museum in Arabia. Sheikh Nasser and his wife, Sheikha Hussa were determined to make it a centre of learning and established a research library too. Entrance to the museum was free to all. I was in awe of this generosity and farsightedness. Not since the Festival of Islam exhibition at the Hayward had I seen such a magnificent collection of Islamic Art – but this wasn’t a temporary display, it was permanent and something for the state to build on. Over the years I have observed a remarkable output of publications from Kuwait, all thanks to Sheikh Nasser and Sheikha Hussa. We are all indebted to their generosity and foresight. Their model has encouraged other Gulf states to follow in their footsteps. I will never forget my brief sojourn in Kuwait and thank Sheikh Nasser for sharing his passion for Islamic art, may he rest in peace.
Rosalind Wade Haddon, PhD
Research Associate SOAS, University of London
Last week I received an email from Eleanor Sims informing me of the sad news concerning Sheikh Nasser. I regret this untimely departure of a generous and wonderful individual who did so much to revive the interest in Islamic Art and Heritage in the Gulf. Although other states and individuals in the region followed his pioneering example, it was the Museum in Kuwait City which set the bench mark for the future.
My father who was his guest at the opening of the Museum and later as his host at the Manor House was taken with his modesty and humility as well as his genuine love of Islamic Art.
I believe it was Sheikh Nasser’s drive, passion and vision which kept the interest in Islamic Art vibrant in the 1980s and 1990s.
Richard de Unger
I am so very sorry to hear of the passing of HE Sheikh Nasser. What a great loss for Kuwait and for the field of art history.
I was just speaking this week about you, Sheikh Nasser and The al-Sabah Collection on view here in Houston, and how this immense treasure of artistic creation across Islamic lands was created and expanded over the decades by you both. Your generous vision to share your extraordinary collection with the world is an exemplary model for all. We are honored, grateful and humbled to be able to play a small role in helping to fulfill this vision.
Please know that you, your family and all of Kuwait are in our thoughts an prayers as you traverse this sad and difficult time.
With most sincere and deepest condolences,
Dear Sheikha Hussah,
Please accept my sincere condolences. I keep very fond memories of the times I met Sheikh Nasser, and I'm sure many others will. He was a special man. May his soul rest in peace.
You have been in my and my family's thoughts the moment I received the terribly sad news from the Ambassador, Anne-Claire. If there is anything at all we can do to be of service to you, please do not hesitate even a moment to ask.
Always, with warmest wishes and much love to you,
Dear Sheikha Hussa,
Arwa and I are saddened by the passing away of HE Sheikh Nasser. His, as your name will be eternally imprinted in the memory of every visitor to your collection in the MFAH. His cultural legacy is hard to match. May his soul be in peace and solace be your company.
Aziz Shaibani, MD, FACP, FAAN, FANA
Director, Nerve and Muscle Center of Texas
Clinical Professor of Medicine
Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas.
Dear Sheikha Hussa,
I wanted to say how sad I was to receive this news and to offer my deepest condolences.
With best wishes,
Dear Sheikha Hussah
I write to say how very sorry I was to hear the news about Sheikh Nasser. We had met at Sotheby’s in the 1980s, where I worked in the Islamic and Indian Art department from 1977-97. With so few prominent private buyers in those days we were forever wondering if you and your husband would buy whatever the top lots were in the usual twice-yearly sales. As you will of course recall we were not often disappointed.
It was only however, when Sheikh Nasser invited me to come to Kuwait in 1998 – through the thoughtfulness of Katie and Sue in recommending me - that I got to know you both. Manuel was of course still curator and Sheikh Nasser frequently dropped in to the museum to see what was happening - and to ask penetrating questions about whatever work one happened to be cataloguing.
His passion for not only the aesthetics of Islamic art but also the technical detail was palpable, a crucial aspect in judging a work of art. Formalities dispensed with, his innate charm and vivacity drew one in and drove his passion to get to the heart of the matter. It is perhaps his greatest achievement in building such vast and important collections over so many years that he knew most of his works intimately.
Having not been to the Gulf for many years my business partner Oliver Forge and I had been planning a visit for November 2020 but in view of the pandemic we had of course to cancel it. It is with great regret that I did not manage to see you both at that time, but meanwhile I write to send you my deepest condolences.
Dear H.E. Sheikha Hussa,
We wanted to let you know that the Board of Trustees began its January 12 meeting with a moment of silence in honor of your husband. We saw a wonderful photograph of Sheikh Nasser and Max Hollein on a recent visit to our galleries. The Board also adopted the enclosed resolution in recognition of the respect and affection we held for him. Sheikh Nasser was highly regarded at the Museum and we are thankful for his unwavering support for the Department of Islamic Art. We are so grateful for both of your wisdom and friendship.
Candace Beinecke and Tony James
Co-Chairs of the Board of Trustees
Dear Sheikha Hussa,
I was deeply saddened to learn of Sheikh Nasser's passing. On behalf of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, please accept my sincere condolences. His excellency was truly a beloved member of our Met community, serving as aTrustee for nearly a decade. Our friendship with him was cherished and we join you in mourning this great loss. May good memories bring you, the Al-Sabah family, and the people of Kuwait peace during this time. Please know that we are thinking of you.
Dear Sheikha Hussa,
Please accept my deepest sympathies about your great loss, the art world’s great loss, your country’s great loss. My friends on the MFAH’s Art of the Islamic Worlds Subcommittee and I value the immense contribution you and Sheikh Nasser have made to the world of Islamic art and, more immediately to us, those many who are blessed to savor and learn from the works you’ve loaned to the MFAH. We consider you our treasured friend. When you are sad, we are sad with you.
Bless your large and caring heart.
With great respect and admiration,
My dearest Hussa,
We are totally shocked & saddened by this unbelievable news that dear Nasser is no longer with us - we are the same age - although we unfortunately haven’t met him for a long time we have always valued him as a close & warm friend & you have always kept that bond alive.
At this moment our thoughts & prayers go out to you & your family - may the All Mighty grant you, your Children & all your Family the strength to bear this irreplaceable void in your lives but may positive memories of him always remain with you & yours & motivate you to continue positively with your mission in life with his continued guidance - you have jointly achieved so much to enrich our appreciation of fine arts worldwide & much more.
We love & admire my dear Hussa , with all our love Bapji & Hemlata.
Gajsingh Bapji Jodhpur.
Very dear Sheikha Hussa,
I hesitate to disturb you at this most painful time. Please know that you are embraced by all of your friends and colleagues around the world, and that there is nothing we wouldn’t do to ease your pain and despair.
I have checked and to my enormous regret it seems impossible for me to fly to Kuwait today because of the COVID requirements of tests at certain intervals.
And I understand that of course the ceremonies will be restricted to government officials and family members.
If you will allow it I will pay my respects as soon as possible in January.
With a very heavy heart and my deepest respect, I am
As ever yours,
Dear Sheikha Hussa:
Aimee Froom from the MFAH informed us of the passing of your dear husband, Sheikh Nasser. My wife Lily and I would like to extend our deepest condolences to you and your family for this sad event. The collection of Islamic art gathered by you and your husband is remarkable by its beauty and breadth.
Please stay safe in these difficult times.
Lily and Hamid Kooros.
Diala and I are truly saddened to learn of the passing of your husband Sheikh Nasser, and we send our heartfelt condolences to you, and your family. Please know that our thoughts and that of the MIT community are with you during this difficult time.
I got to know Sheikh Nasser through your description of his passion for the arts and for his work in government. He left behind a wonderful legacy through his family and the work that you both did around the Dar Al Athar Al-Islamiyyah.
I hope to be able to see you before long and extend my condolences in person.
I hope that this email finds you well. I am writing from the Department of Islamic Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Kenson Kwok, a member of our scholarly community, reached out to ask if he could have a postal address for Sheikha Hussa in order to send a condolence card. Could I put him in touch with either yourself or one of Sheikha Hussa’s assistants in order to provide the best address?
I also wanted to express my condolences for the loss of Sheikh Nasser, and I extend my deepest sympathies to his family.
Thank you so much,
Dear Sheikha Hussa,
We want to convey our warm thoughts and prayers to you and your family at this sad moment on the loss of your dear husband Sheikh Nasser.
We did not have the chance to meet him, but were able to enjoy and appreciate the priceless treasures he assembled.
His name will always stay as a man of great qualities and of a higher aesthetic taste and knowledge that allowed him to assemble one of the greatest collection of ancient art in the world.
May His Soul Rest In Peace
Chino and Iwona
Dear Sheikha Hussah,
Having just read Navina Haidar's memorial words for your husband, Sheikh Nasser, I hasten to write to express my condolences at his passing. He and you created a remarkable partnership in the service of expanding the appreciation of Islamic art generally but particularly for the broader cultural benefit of the Kuwaiti people.
To remind you who I am, we met at a luncheon at Harvard when the organizer thought you might be interested in my efforts to revive destroyed and devastated academic libraries in Bosnia-Hercegovina through the Bosnia Library Project, which I founded and managed, 1996-2005. From 2003-2013, I endeavored to document, publicize and ameliorate the status of Iraqi libraries and archives post-invasion.
We met again at the opening of your splendid exhibit of Mughal jewels at the Met.
I have often wondered what became of the grand old residence(s) you were renovating in Syria during the cruel war that has wracked that suffering country.
I am retired from the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, but continue my work on the history of photography in the Middle East and Islamic textiles.
In spite of your great loss, I offer you my hope that your excellent and productive work will continue in Sheikh Nasser's absence.
Jeffrey B. Spurr
Dear Sheikha Hussa,
I hope you are doing well, albeit in the wake of the sad event in December. With Sh Nasser's demise, I thought of Aristotle's words that one can never say whether or not a man or woman has led a good life until that life has ended. What an exemplary life he indeed had, with a loving family, in law and government, but also as a cultural force in the Middle East and the wider World.
Here at our home in the country north of Wilmington, Delaware, there has been much activity surrounding our neighbor Joe Biden's revived political fortunes. I know you were close to the Bushes, and it feels good to once again have a man and a woman of moral backbone in the White House, after four humiliating years.
I've been thinking of you and Dar al Athar al Islamiyyah more recently, because I'm working with a dynamic group of young and accomplished women who are bringing wholesome cyber-based family entertainment (Gaming and Streaming) to the Mid-East and the world. The non-violent and constructive content they have developed is consonant, I believe, with the values you have championed through the Foundation. Samer Khanachet has guided them to Pinak Maitra, who by their account has been a great pleasure to work with.
In this connection, and because I have now had my full battery of COVID immunizations, I'm hoping to travel, after too many months absence, to Kuwait. I will give you advance warning and hope you are there. Sheila and I miss the region, and we miss you.
Kindest best regards,
John C Voss, jr
My dear Sheikha Hussa,
I was saddened to read of your news.
Having lost my darling Pat just over a year ago, I know well the pain you are feeling. If the thoughts of a friend can mean anything at a time like this, please know that you have mine.
Concentrate on the happy memories.
With deepest sympathy,
Dear Sheikha Hussa,
It is with immense sadness that I learnt of the passing of your husband and please allow me to express my deepest condolences to you and your family on this incredible loss. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to meet him in person but obviously he was a truly extraordinary person with such an impact on his country and on the arts. It is more than unfortunate that I missed him on his last visit to Doha when he visited the museum. I really regret.
Please accept my sincere sympathy in this difficult time.
May his soul rest in peace.
With kindest regards,
Dear Sheikha Hussa,
I was so saddened to hear the news about Sheikh Nasser. I never had the pleasure of meeting him (he came once to my ex-museum but I only found out after he had left!). But the deaths! Know who had business with him all sing praises about his kindness, enthusiasm and personal generosity. The world of art, museums and heritage lost one of its pillars. My deepest sympathies to you and your family.
Dear Sheikha Hussa,
I write to you with my deepest condolences on the passing of Sheikh Nasser.The news made us all very sad; it is an enormous loss, for no one more so than you. I am sorry that I did not get the chance to meet Sheikh Nasser, but I know from others and from the press coverage over the years that he was a wonderful human being who did so much to make the world a better place.
Please know that my thoughts and my prayers are with you and your family.
With profound sympathy,
Dearest Sheikha Hussa,
Having recently retired from AUB Museum and being away from Beirut, I sincerely regret the delay in expressing my deepest sympathy and condolences for the passing away of your beloved husband, Late Sheikh Nasser,
Sheikh Nasser is a real irreplaceable Great Man. He will always be remembered with deepest esteem.
His fantastic memories and achievements, in so many fields, will always live and never die.
May His Soul rest in Peace and His wonderful memories give you strength.
May God sustain and comfort you in your great loss.
With my reiterated condolences, please accept my ever respectful and greatest affection.
Director AUB Museum
Dear Shaikha Hussah,
It is with a heavy heart I write to you to express my deepest sympathies for the loss of your dear husband Shaikh Nasser. I am truly heartbroken for your immense loss.
Shaikh Nasser was so loved by your family and friends and all who were blessed to know him. I know you will carry on his immense legacy and his great vision of bringing attention to the amazing collection that he so tastefully and passionately brought together. It brought such respect and admiration to Middle Eastern art and culture. I was so happy to see parts of his collection at the Houston Museum of Fine Art as well as in Kuwait. I have the utmost awe and respect for Shaikh Nasser's astute eye.
My thoughts and prayers are with you and your dear family in these very difficult times, and I hope you will have solace in the beautiful memories that Shaikh Nasser left behind.
Leila Taghinia-Milani Heller
Dear Sheikha Hussa,
I got to know of the tragic news, of Sheikh Nasser’s passing away, a few days ago. Was he unwell? He will never be forgotten because of all that he achieved.All that I can express-is that ones who are loved never leave us. They live within our heart.
Lekha ( Poddar)
Your Royal Highness,
We have not yet had the opportunity to meet but I have obviously heard a lot about you and your late husband Sheikh Nasser. I have been fortunate enough to head the Department of Islamic Arts at the Louvre Museum since 2013, which owes so much to you and Sheikh Nasser. I received the sad news of his death on December 20, and I would like to offer you my sincere condolences and those of the entire department. Our thoughts are with you at this difficult time, and I would also like to tell you how honored I will be to meet you as soon as you are able to do so in Paris or Kuwait. In any case, please know that you are always at home here at the Louvre in this department.
Mrs. Yannick Lintz
My Dear Hussah,
There are truly no words to express the great sadness I am feeling since learning of the passing of dear Nasser! I shall never forget him! Please know, dear Hussah, that you are in my thoughts at this very difficult time for you and your children and I trust that you will let me know if there is anything I can do to help you through the coming months. Both you and Nasser were there for me when I lost my beloved Maan and that meant so much to me. At this saddest of times for you, I sincerely hope there is something I can do to help you as well.
With my deepest sympathy and much love,
Dr Marilyn Jenkins-Madina
My dearest Sheikha Hussah,
I have no words to express the great sorrow I feel. Since yesterday I have been receiving calls from many of Sheikh Nasser’s and your friends and admirers in the US and Europe asking me how and when they might write to you. His bigness of heart, and his generous and joyful soul, indeed created - essentially through you - a huge extended Al Sabah ‘family’ around the world. If we who knew him just a little feel this immensity of grief, I can only imagine your own sense of loss and pain.
It is an impulsive thought of course but I wish so much I could just get on a plane and come to Kuwait now. I know you have your wonderful children and so many others around you, but it would have meant a lot to me to be there: to pay my last respects to a very great man, and to just be there with you and for you. Perhaps this may be possible in a few weeks....For now, all I can do - and it feels so very inadequate - is send you my deepest sympathy and, of course,
much love –
My dearest Hussa,
For so many weeks Nasser and you have been very much in my thoughtsand heart.
Today I heard the sad news.
With all my good thoughts and love to you and the family,
Dear Sheikha Hussah,
We offer you our very sincere condolences for the loss of your beloved husband. We keep a very nice memory from the time together in Paris when we were invited to the opening of the Mughal exhibition in Louvre museum.
Barbara and Martin Buxtorf
Dear Sheikha Hussah,
I was deeply saddened to hear the news about Sheikh Nasser and wanted to send you my deep-felt condolences. I have such wonderful memories of my encounters with him and feel fortunate to have met him. His vision and energy have touched so many and will remain a powerful legacy. Please take care of yourself.
With much sympathy and respect,
Dear Sheikha Hussa,
I was so very sorry to learn of Sheikh Nasser's sudden passing. Please accept my personal condolences regarding this tragic loss. Just last September, I had the great privilege to be with his Excellency here at The Met in our Islamic Art Galleries with Lin Jenkins-Madina and Navina Haidar. Our meeting was brief, but it was an extraordinary honor for me. You both have been such steadfast and long-time friends of the Museum, and I was delighted to finally meet him in person and express our gratitude. I will remember that occasion now for years to come.
This is a sad moment for so many, and you and your family are all in my thoughts. I hope the day comes soon when we can gather again together--in Kuwait or here in New York. Until then, I send you my deepest sympathies during this difficult time.
With all best wishes,
Dear Sheikha Hussah,
It is only a few weeks ago we were in touch, and I heard only today of the loss your dear dear husband, our Sheikh Nasser. Jacqueline and I were so fond of Sheikh Nasser from the first moment he visited our then home in Castellain Road in London over forty years ago. He was one of the kindest and most courteous gentleman.
He always had an excellent eye, extraordinary scholarship and lovely smile, he made us always feel immediately at ease. We recall with particular fondness to be invited to your home in Liss in Hampshire. I have only recently been reading short accounts of some of the great things he achieved, it was truly a great life. Sheikh Nasser will always be remembered.
Jacqueline joins me in offering you and your family our deepest condolences.
Bless you all and please keep safe during these very difficult and dangerous times.
With very best wishes,
Fawzia and I are greatly saddened by Sheik Nasser’s passing.
Nasser was a great man, an exemplary leader in your shared quest to present the enduring aesthetic achievements of Islamic culture to a global audience. The Dar al Athar al Islamiyya and your touring exhibitions presented at the great museums were a source of pride to all Arabs and Muslims and a revelation to museum viewers globally.
The integrity with which Nasser supported The Arabs Film Series was remarked upon by all associated with the production and its broadcast in Europe and the USA. The greatest Scholars of Arab islamic studies from Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard embraced the gave of their best to the films. Nasser encouraged scholarly truth and the human truths of lived lives
I recall vividly the pride of association with which Rakan Sara and Fariseven as children spoke of these great Kuwaiti exhibitions
His trust and support was the foundation stone for the second half of my professional life in film. Our gratitude for this support and the easy warmth of decades of familial friendship is infinite. At a personal level, our family has always felt as though we have been part of your family. Thank you all.
Our most sincere condolences
Michael, Fawzia, Rakan, Sarah and Faris McKinnon
Please accept condolences on the passing of Sheikh Nasser, great person and personality. We will never forget him. His collecting will always be a perfect monument for him as promoter of Art and Culture
Dear Sheikha Hussa,
We haven’t seen each other for a very long time now, but I had the chance to meet Sheikh Naser few times in recent years. Please accept my sincere condolences for your husband and for an exceptional and fine figure in our Arab world.
Dear Sheikha Hussa,
Words cannot express our sorrow at the passing of Sheikh Nasser. What a great loss to humanity and to all who had the tremendous good fortune to know him.
Our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with you and all the family. Please feel our support at this very difficult moment. We are with you in grief and sorrow and if there is anything we can do please don't hesitate.
Sheikh Nasser was a life force that cannot be forgotten. He will live in our hearts forever and his legacy will always be cherished. He has won his place in history, in culture, in leadership and most of all in humanity.
Sending you the strength and fortitude that you and the family will need to bear this loss - and we are by your sides.
Much love, affection, thoughts and prayers, from my parents too, and from us to all of you,
Navina and Bernard
Dear Sheikha Hussah
I was much saddened to hear the unhappy news of Sheikh Nasser’s death. I hope I may offer to you and to your family my sincere sympathy,not just as a member of the museum community, for whom you have both done so much world-wide, but also on an entirely personal level, as some one to whom you have both shown great and fondly remembered hospitality.
I know how much your work together transformed and enriched the cultural life of Kuwait. But as you are certainly well aware, the world far beyond Kuwait also has cause to be deeply grateful for the discernment with which Sheikh Nasser built his collections, the scholarship with which he curated them, and the magnanimity with which he shared them. The exhibition of Mughal gold and jewellery at the British Museum took place just before I arrived there, but its impact was — and still is — a lasting one : it re-focussed the Museum’s attention on the great cultures of the early modern, and indeed contemporary, Middle East and their impact on the world; and it established a pattern of international sharing and friendly collaboration which has grown steadily ever since, and now embraces museums from Houston to the Hermitage. If I mention these two particularly, it is of course because I remember comments made by Mikhail Pietrovsky at the celebrations of the 250th Anniversary of the Hermitage, and because I have been able to see in Houston the impact of the objects on loan there, and how the local community responds to them. But I know that the same is true in Berlin, Madrid, and many other cities and museums. His collections have allowed the world to think in an new way about their shared past.
As you know, I met Sheikh Nasser only once. It is a day of which I have the clearest recollection. For several hours, he showed me objects in the collection, especially new acquisitions from Central Asia / Iran: handling them, talking about them, asking questions of them, eager to have them yield their secrets and their stories. Knowing the range of his curiosity and his interests, I was struck by how deeply he engaged with the different objects in turn — and how eager he was to have others interrogate them in different ways and different contexts. And then, after the time in the collections, you and he invited us — Mahrukh and myself — to that marvellously happy, utterly hilarious dinner, where he showed us the settings that he had designed for some truly wondrousstones, to much admiration and great laughter. It was a day of many pleasures: and it allowed me to gain some idea of the stature, the achievement and the humanity of a man with a rare combination of gifts, which he used to the full.
His death will leave a great gap, and a memory universally honoured. I cannot guess the loss that it represents for you and your family.
This comes with my tribute to his memory, and my warmest sympathy to you.
Dear Sheikha Hussah,
I was so shocked and saddened yesterday to hear that your beloved husband Sheikh Nasser passed away yesterday. Please accept my heartfelt condolences!
Although I was aware of his previous health condition, I had hoped that he would be alright for some time to come. I can only begin to imagine the sense of loss you and your children are feeling. I wish you much strength for the coming days and weeks... my thoughts are with you in Kuwait right now.
I remember Sheikh Nasser so well (going back to our earliest years in Kuwait) as a warm, kind and charming man with sparkling eyes and a lovely smile. This is the picture of him that will always stay with me.
May his soul rest in peace.
Thinking of you all,
Jill and I were so sorry to hear that Nasser has passed away. We only met him the once, when we visited you in Kuwait with Shelby. He was so charming, courteous and welcoming to us. As you know he was viewed amongst lovers of the ancient world as a truly legendary collector with impeccable taste and who did so much to preserve the culture of the near and Middle East.
I really wish that I had gotten to know Nasser many years ago. We shared so many passions in art and I remember clearly an invitation to accompany him falconning in Mongolia which was very tempting!
We send you our deepest sympathies at this sad time
Paul and Jill
Little words can be sent along....
Our prayers are with you and yours.
This is a beautiful sketch of your story which survives for the
future generations to come.
Ricardo & Sara
Please accept my sincere condolences on the passing of His Highness. It is a great loss for your family, the Nation, and the world at large. The entire region will mourn the passing of an extraordinary leader, collector, and visionary. May he rest in peace.
With my deepest sympathies
Dear Sheykha Hussah,
I am deeply saddened by the news of the loss of Sheikh Nasser. May care and love of those around you provide comfort and peace to get you through the days ahead. My most sincere condolences to you and your children.
May his soul rest in peace in the highest of Heavens.
Dear Sheikha Hussah,
I was so sorry to receive the sad news of Sheikh Nasser's passing. Through Lyn I have been following his struggle since I retired and was so hopeful that he might rally and carry on longer. I suppose, as for all of us, his fate was in God's hands and beyond anyone's ultimate control.
For art historians and museum professionals, not to mention collectors, dealers and everyone else involved with Islamic and Ancient art, Sheikh Nasser was a huge influence. His keen eye and passionate interest, not to mention his sense of adventure, were the foundation of an exceptional collection which he and you generously shared with the world through the Kuwait National Museum, special exhibitions, publications and loans. When the new section of the Kuwait National Museum opens, it will be a wonderful tribute to the effort Sheikh Nasser and you have devoted to returning this collection to the Kuwaiti public.
John and I are thinking of you, your children and grandchildren at this time and send our heartfelt sympathies to you all.
May he Rest In Peace, and May we all be grateful for his life. My heart goes out to you for your loss. Please know I am thinking if you and sending my love,
Forgive me for sending condolences by email but I just heard about Nasser’s passing. I am so saddened to learn of this news. What a huge loss to you and your family and to the country he loved so dearly. I had hoped to see you both again in 2021 if the virus was finally under control, now memories must suffice. I hope that you and your family will accept my condolences for this terrible loss.
He was such a great mentor to so many people, so patient given his enormous responsibilities and so loving and joyous when I saw him with his children and grandchildren but also with his wonderful collections. His memory will be always be a blessing among us.
With warmest wishes,
Dear Sheikha Hussa
I wanted to offer my deepest condolences for the passing of HE Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah of Kuwait. It’s a great loss for everyone. We at the MFAH’s Art of the Islamic World Committee are forever indebted for yours and Sheikh Nasser’s vision and generosity. He will be greatly missed and we are all mourning with you.
With love and affection
Dear Sheikha Hussah,
We were dismayed to learn that Sheikh Nasser passed away much too early. We express our deepest compassion. Sheikh Nasser has done a lot for our field together with you and you were the first in the Gulf region to make the love of Islamic art publicly accessible. The Dar al Athar al Islamiyyah was a milestone in 1980 and is a lasting legacy for the generations to come. There are many parallels in the collection to the purchases made by my predecessors in Dahlem and we therefore feel very connected to Kuwait.
On behalf of all employees, our condolences. We wish you strength and confidence in this difficult time!
All my best wishes
Dear Sheikha Hussa:
I just learned from Gary Tinterow and from Aimee Froom about the passing of HE Sheikh Nasser. We are very sorry to hear the sad news.
Please accept our condolences. We pray his soul rests in eternal peace and we pray that Allah grants you the strength to bear this terrible loss.
We thank you for your generosity to the MFAH and thank you for doing so much for so many.
Sultana and Moez Mangalji
I just heard that your husband has passed away and I wanted to convey our condolences. I am so sorry to hear this news. While I cannot put myself in your shoes, I know from my own experiences with tragedy that only time can fill some of the voids. I have asked myself whether I can collapse that time period by finding a healthy attitude and I do work hard on that. My goal is to be able to smile when I think of someone that I have lost.
While I know he wasn’t well for a while, losing someone you have been with for so long opens many many questions. I watched this with my Mom (who turned 97 last week and can tell you every detail of why she dislikes Trump so much) when she lost Dad. She started dating Dad when she was 13 and he 14.
Having this life event occur during Covid has many sides to it, but certainly it means that some traditions are difficult. You will have a lot to think about in the coming months. If I can be of any help, please let me know.
In the meantime, Margot, David and I want you to know that we are thinking of you and you will be in our prayers.
Dear Sheikha Hussa,
On behalf of all of us here at the Aga Khan Museum, I would like to express our deep sadness at the passing of HE Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah of Kuwait and send you our very heartfelt condolences.
We will always remember HE Sheikh Nasser’s enthusiasm for and connoisseurship in Islamic art, and the generosity with which you both have been making your wonderful collection available to Museums around the world as an ambassador for peace and mutual understanding. We are particularly grateful for the friendship extended to the Aga Khan Museum over the years and remember with great fondness and pride the ‘Emperors and Jewels’ exhibition we presented together here in Toronto in 2018.
The passing of HE Sheikh Nasser is a devastating loss for the nation of Kuwait and for the world of Islamic art. We will always remember and honour his legacy. May he rest in peace.
Dear Respected Sheikha Hussa,
I cannot adequately express in words, my extreme sadness at the passing of Sheikh Nasser.
He single-handedly saved an entire art-form with his interest in collecting Indian jewellery and changed the perception of an entire generation of scholars. To me, he has been a source of great respect, admiration and humility.
I owe him and his vision in seeing the enduring beauty in jewels so much for my own abiding interest and study and documentation of this great art tradition. His love for art and his great collection will live on in all our collective memories.
May his soul rest in peace and I pray to God to give him eternal rest.
Nijad and I are so sorry for the tremendous loss of His Excellency Sheikh Nasser. He was one of the best leaders in our part of the world, with vision, kindness, and a cultural understanding that transcended boundaries.
His passing is a tragedy for the whole world. Our thoughts and prayers are with your family during these difficult times.
I have known Sheikh Nasser And Sheika Hussa since 1974. Our friendship continued till now. We spent happy times and sad and worried times through the years. But the most poignant part was Sheik Nasser’s devotion to his country; caring for his people’s wellfare.
It was never done to advertise himself. He never talked about what he donated to his nation, nothing in his name for his glorification like many others.
He was the most wonderful, caring friend. Always there without asking when you were in need of his advise and help. Loyalty and humbleness were his greatest qualities.
With his loss, not only his family and friends, the nation lost a wonderful human being. All who knew him will miss him deeply. His optimism and joy of life gave all who knew him hope.
I am proud that he called me Abla, which is sister in Turkish.
Nasser, you will always be in out hearts.
It was in 1982 that Katie Marsh first drew my attention to a new collection of Islamic pottery being formed in Kuwait - bringing to me in the Victoria and Albert Museum occasional pieces for my opinion. I remember the first time I met the impassioned collector himself - I was with Katie on the top floor of the Museum, when Sheikh Nasser strode down the gallery, very smart and wearing as I recall a trilby hat, his eyes shining as he enthusiastically surveyed the serried ranks of pots in the old “Islamic Study Collection”. This meeting was followed by an invitation to write a catalogue, and this led to a yearly rhythm of work.
A week or two was spent in Kuwait working in the soothing atmosphere of the library, selecting, studying and photographing pieces, with the help of Manuel Keen and Sue Kaoujki; followed by study and writing-up back in London. Meetings with Sheikh Nasser and Sheikha Hussah were held to discuss the scope and format of the book; my anxiety at suggesting, and then my delight at their enthusiastic acceptance of a section on fakes by their conservator Kirsty Norman. This shows their true qualities as patrons - few collectors would countenance such a thing, but Sheikh Nasser saw its importance for the understanding of the history of the subject and was interested and enthralled by the past skill of restorations. His judgement proved right - this section of the book is one of its most important (and popular!) contributions.
Two other signs of enlightened patronage: no pressure to meet unrealistic deadlines, indeed a relaxed attitude which allowed me the time to fully absorb and present what were ground-breaking topics (unglazed wares, manufacturing moulds and tools) or long-lost masterpieces (from the Behague and Kelekian collections); and a desire that the book should reach a wide audience, which meant a paper-back edition at a price that even students could afford. That this book Ceramics from Islamic Lands quickly became and still remains the standard work on the subject is a reflection of Sheikh Nasser’s enthusiasm, his keen eye for artistic quality and historical interest, and his academic rigour. He was a great collector, a delightful host, and a generous patron, who made a long-lasting contribution to the subject, and to whom we all owe a great debt of gratitude.
To write a remembrance of Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah is not an easy task. I cannot state that the frequent meetings we had in Kuwait during the almost past twenty years have changed my life, but certainly those meetings made it a better one. The occasions in which I had the privilege of sitting close to him in Mahbula and later on in Yarmuck, have always been important moments.
To write and acknowledge that Sheikh Nasser has been a genial collector is a commonplace, but also an incontrovertible truth. Such as the fact that them (because it is impossible for me to divide Sheikh Nasser from his love, wife and companion Sheikha Hussah) have been true pioneers in the Gulf – and not only there – of the rediscovery, if not discovery tout court, of Islamic Art. All the others followed this path. But it is not the great and refined collector that I want to remember here, but the Man.
The man I have seen and met. I am only a little piece of a great mosaic puzzle that he sketched. Sheikh Nasser wasn’t a simple person, although he was an easy man. I am trying to say that despite his unbelievable knowledge in so many fields, he had no need to brag about it. Not humble, absolutely not. But easy: he had the noble gift of putting people at their ease, and this was coming to him naturally, without any effort and without posture. And his always careful glance, full of his fantastic irony. The first time I met him in Mahbula, many years ago, I was a bit frighten by this meeting; I remember that Sue, my incredible and dearest Madame Sue, simply told me: “Do not pretend with him: be what you are!” And I always followed this suggestion.
I also remember with a smile and great nostalgia so many meetings in which as usual I was dressed with gaudy colors and my bow ties, and combinations probably not so orthodox, and crossing his sight at the very beginning a bit ironic if not perplexed, but I am sure a peculiar one. He was a curious man, again a gift no one can teach you. Then his sight has been in a way transformed: he looked at me and was nodding, like the confirmation of a thought, never a judgement; I like thinking that he was happy to find me back as I was. My meetings with Sheikh Nasser have been more than nice. I never felt myself questioned or under trial (as it was common with other collectors and even colleagues; it would not be fair to mention their names…), but on a common field in which you could interact, even speaking freely and without limits, because always Sheikh Nasser was putting me at complete ease.
Probably I told him several nonsense, but he never made me feel out of place: he accepted different opinions, maybe calling you “stupid”, but I never thought he was offensive, it was confidence, something precious. An indelible remembrance is one of his visits in Mahbula; I don’t know for what reasons he asked to open the drawers with jewels which were at the back of Sue’s chair. He started to open them and to show those masterpieces to me and I started to cry, slowly and without any noise; a big emotion and a lost of control frankly a bit embarrassing. He noticed it, of course, but went on explaining so many details and stories. He had a prodigious memory and an immeasurable knowledge, matched only by his human sensitiveness.
That human sensitiveness is something you cannot learn: you have it or not. That day I felt to be so close to him in the contemplation of beauty. Unforgettable. I know that on many respects I have had a very lucky life. Even because I had the fortune of meeting such an extraordinary Man. True. It is impossible to forget him and it is mandatory to honor his legacy. His passage on earth and his message cannot be disregarded. I am sure that the Beauty which has been his best companion throughout his life will be with him for the eternity. Amen.
Florence, January 2021
I have known Sheikh Nasser for over 4 decades. He was one of the most passionate individuals I have ever met. His love for art and culture was unparalleled, and his achievements speak for themselves. His legacy will live through his contributionsand the museum will carry his vision for perpetuity.
I extend my condolences to Sheikha Hussa and the family.
Professor Sir Nasser David Khalili
Sheikh Nasser will be a huge loss to the field of Islamic art. He was one of the first serious collectors of Islamic art in the Gulf and he inspired many others to follow in his path. He was a particularly knowledgeable and enthusiastic collector who bought interesting, historical objects as well as visual masterpieces to create an enormous collection of superb quality that spanned the Islamic world – and beyond.
Sheikh Nasser stood out for his generosity and desire to share his collection with others, in exhibitions (which museum has not benefited from an exhibition drawn from the collection?) and beautiful publications by leading scholars. Like many others, I have personally benefited from visiting and studying the collection in Kuwait and being provided with images of objects to illustrate books and articles.
He and his wife Sheikha Hussa put together a dedicated team to curate and run the collection along the open access principles he established. They are working to prepare a new museum for the collection which will be a magnificent monument to Sheikh Nasser.
My abiding memory of Sheikh Nasser is of sitting in the Collection office in Mahboula, discussing around the leather sofas in Sue’s office, where Sheikh Nasser would sit, drinking coffee and passing around the objects for our perusal and comment. With his habitual courtesy, he ensured that everyone present was included in the appraisal and discussion. This photo of eminent American scholars, Dr Prue Harper and Dr Martha Carter, who were visiting in 2015, perfectly encapsulates the atmosphere of intellectual curiosity and excitement that was generated on these occasions. The gold vases, exceptional in every way, were particular favourites of Sheikh Nasser’s at the time. I will always cherish these memories of a remarkable man and a great collector from whom I learnt so much.
Deborah Freeman Fahid
Assistant Curator and Head of Publications, 2007-2016
The passing of Sheikh Nasser al Sabah is an immeasurable loss to the art world. He was one of the greatest collectors of his generation and a pioneer in the field of Islamic art. He was one of the first to realise that Islamic art was a collecting category that had been largely overlooked by the art market, where world-class works of art could be picked up at a fraction of the prices paid for their counterparts in Western art sales. Sheikh Nasser and Sheikha Hussah collected with a passion and dedication that is only to be found in true collectors. Together they formed a collection that is unsurpassed in its quality and unmatched in its comprehensiveness.
There is one memory of Sheikh Nasser that stands out for me and that was a particular occasion when I was telephone-bidding with him and Katie Marsh during an auction at Sotheby’s. Katie and I were in London, and Sheikh Nasser I learnt afterwards was in India... watching tigers. There was one lot in the auction that I knew he really wanted and as the lot approached I became increasingly nervous that we might lose the connection.
When the lot finally came up I could hear Katie desperately repeating “Sheikh Nasser, do you want to bid? Sheikh Nasser, do you want to bid?” Nothing, no response. We missed the lot. Afterwards I rang Katie back and asked what happened. She said that a tiger had approached at precisely the moment when the lot came up and Sheikh Nasser didn’t want to speak in case he disturbed the creature and scared it away! It struck me then, that for all his love - indeed his immense passion - for art and for collecting, he still chose to be in the moment with that tiger.
Chairman, Sotheby’s Middle East & India
MY FRIEND, SHEIKH NASSER
It was in the 1980s. I was at the head of a small jewelry workshop, when my father, a renowned diamond dealer, asked me to go to Kuwait on his behalf to make molds of some important carved Mughals emeralds in the collection of Sheikh Nasser al-Sabah. It was my first visit to Kuwait and my first contact with this endearing man and his world of Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah.
Who could have predicted that it would develop into a great friendship, one that lasted forty years, peopled with numerous enriching encounters, extraordinary journeys, lively conversations and a shared passion for treasure hunting...
Sheikh Nasser's name was not unfamiliar to me. My mother had told us a story about a dinner she attended with Sheikh Nasser and his wife Sheikha Hussah, and a famous jeweler and his wife. For the occasion my mother had selected a beautiful diamond brooch, ring and ear clips, and the jeweller’s wife who was covered with diamonds sparkled like a Christmas tree, whereas Sheikha Hussah, who owned sumptuous jewelry, true to her discreet disposition, almost wore no jewelry... great, very great class! It made my sister Ilona and me smile.
On several occasions, we were commissioned to design and manufacture jewels with gemstones of great quality, which at the outset and owing to the importance of the assignments produced feelings of anxiety, but these feelings were not long-lived as I discovered a man of extreme kindness and a magnificent family that immediately put me at ease.
My father had been present at the inauguration of the Kuwait National Museum in 1983, and later, I had the privilege of visiting it and appreciating the beauty of the building and the exhibits.
Sadly, the events that took place in 1990 (the invasion of Kuwait) endorsed the foresight and motivation to make molds of the emerald collection, as many disappeared during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and have not reappeared to this day.
Having, at the request of my father, handed over my workshop in 1990 and joined the family business, I got involved once again and reworked some of the projects that were still pending. As my father passed away at the end of 1996, I renewed communication with some of our old contacts, among whom was Sheikh Nasser, upon whose request I negotiated the purchase of several important pieces, including the historic spinel, known as the Timur Ruby. I also finalized the purchase of a jeweled hilt which was reproduced on the poster of the "Treasury of the World" exhibition in London.
It brought me pride and great joy to be able to participate in the acquisition of such important pieces! And it wall the more worth it, as when I delivered these treasures to Kuwait, it allowed me to share for a few days, a few hours in the life of Dar al Athar al Islamyyah, then located on the family’s property in Mahboula. During each stay I had the joy of sharing time with all the actors who played a part in this adventure, foremost Sheikha Hussah, who gathered the whole family once a week for lunch – the children and grandchildren of whom I think with great emotion, as of the beautiful moments spent together in this magical place!
I met up with Sheikh Nasser in 1998 in Amsterdam to show him objects that might be of interest to him and from there we travelled together to Antwerp, where he was interested in visiting beautiful houses in a neighborhood that he had heard about. During our meeting with the real estate agent, he asked me to play the role of the buyer, him being in blue jeans it was up to me, in a suit and tie, to pretend to be the "important" figure ...
I also finalized the purchase of a 56.70 carat "Taviz" diamond from Spinks in London, which I delivered to Kuwait in May 1999, in time for it to partake in the “Treasury of the World” exhibition.
Around that time I had the privilege of delivering a collection of Mughal objects, some of which also took part in the exhibition, including an enameled shield as well as a long sword, a historical object but nevertheless a formidable weapon, which caused a stir in the boarding lounge of Geneva airport when I presented myself at the checkpoint. I owed my rescue to the captain of Kuwait Airways who accepted to take me on board with the sword.
In March 2000 we went to the TETAF art fair in Maastricht, a city of very complicated access, and on our arrival we took a cab driven by a woman and throughout the journey, Sheikh Nasser inquired with curiosity about the life and activity of a woman taxi driver in Maastricht... We ended our trip in Paris at a small hotel near the Gare de Lyon.
I returned to Kuwait twice, to prepare a valuation of the collection, and in May 2001 we met in London for the opening of the "Treasury of the World" exhibition at the British Museum, and then visited together the exhibition "Le Diamant" in Paris, at the Museum of Natural History". Afterwards, we attended the opening of the "Treasury of the World" exhibition in Berlin in 2005, in Paris in 2006, and the “al-Fann” exhibition at the Palazzo Reale in Milan in 2010. Each occasion was a renewed pleasure, a exquisite assembly, and exhibits of very high quality and an enlightened choice.
In 2002, he became interested in acquiring a property in Geneva, but, faced with the difficulty for a foreigner to buy a house in Switzerland, I found a beautiful residence in the vicinity of Cointrin airport, on French territory. This patrician house had been built by Voltaire to house his watchmakers. After numerous adventures and the help of a couple architects who adjusted the premises to allow barbecues, the house became a “pied à Terre” in the region, the best use of which was made by Sheikh Nasser and Sheikha Hussa’s daughter, Futouh, during her studies. Sheikh Nasser even brought back a Mongolian yurt which I helped to assemble in the garden of their Ferney-Voltaire house. A very nice and relaxing break.
In September 2002 he picked me up in Geneva and we left for Munich to meet two dealers who presented us with several breathtaking antiquities, we then left to visit the Berlin Museum and after that, as if by magic, we met again in Zürich to see other antiquities with the same dealers.
London in October 2004, and then Berlin in January 2005 for the opening of the travelling exhibition. It was also in August 2005, after long negotiations that I was finally able to bring back a much-awaited trophy, the 100 and especially the 1000 gold Mohur coins that had been on sale at the Habsburg-Feldman auction house. They were hotly disputed between a bank where they had been deposited as security for a loan to an individual that was never repaid, and the Indian government, which claimed ownership.
In January 2011, he called and asked me to join him on a trip to Burma. After an express trip to Hong-Kong and a boat crossing to Macao, we immediately went to the airport and flew to Yangon. We spent a few days there, divided between the market, jewelry stores and eating “Peking duck” at the Lake Restaurant... Once the choice of necklaces and pieces set with rubies was made, we left for Bangkok, to buy additional rubies. Then to Fujaira in the UAE for a few more days with a visit to the local museum, to which Sheikh Nasser presented a few pieces for their collection.
In February 2012, I was invited to spend a week at their residence in Beaconsfield, a superb property in the neighborhood of London, where we spent much time building snowmen and participating in cooking festivals… a beautiful place in a park with deer.
In April 2012, I was asked to make copies of the Mohurs coins. Sheikh Nasser took me on a trip to Marsa Alam in southern Egypt, where his father owns a large property by the sea.
As Sheikh Nasser was an important member of the Ruling Family of Kuwait, he was received officially. We were received by members of the Egyptian army, and from then on, a military convoy with about ten soldiers followed us throughout our visit to ensure the security of the important guest, something he appreciated, though deep down he disliked it.
In the morning, after a copious breakfast, we went shopping in the market, a sport that Sheikh Nasser practices assiduously. We even bought a huge scarlet grouper to play a practical joke on one of his friends during a fishing trip.
In 2017, we meet again in Beaconsfield, and set off together to Paris to attend the opening of Sheikh Hamad al Thani’s exhibition at the Grand Palais, and the reception of which Sheikh Nasser was the guest of honor. It was a sumptuous reception with all the world's top museum experts of Islamic art.
How I enjoyed our adventures! How I loved his entourage! Starting with the amazing Sheikha Hussah, and his children Dana, Bibi, Futouh, Abdallah, Sabah and Fahad, his grandson Ali and the people whom I met thanks to him, Sue, my wonderful Sue, Katie, Manuel, Philip, Daud and Ahmad Shah, Firas, Aurora and William, Suresh, Katherine, Sophie, Loulwa, Samir, Georges, Brian Fix, Souren Melikian, Mahrukh, Mubarak, Obaid, Lahcen, Benji, Dino and his wife, and all those whose names I forgot but whose memory is engraved in my heart. But, most of all, him... his friendship, his kindness, his compassion, his concern for the well-being of all, his mocking smile when he gently teased me, his ideas for the future of his country, the “Silk City” link between Kuwait and China, his concern for the transmission of his collection… What an extraordinary character, what a brilliant souvenir, and what satisfaction to know that Sheikha Hussah will know how to keep his memory alive and continue his work, what luck that we crossed paths in our lives and to be able to constitute a small stone in this great edifice.
His blessed memory will always be for me an object of great pride.
I miss him...
I received with sorrow the sad news of the passing away of His Excellency SheikhNasser Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah.
I remember His deep knowledge and interest in ancients’ arts and especially His reflections on the process of “abstraction”, as well as His kindness.
He was an exceptional person, I will miss Him and keep a vivid memory of Him.
Please accept all my condolences
With deep regards,