Charles Saatchi: the 'one-man Medici'

The godfather of the 'Young British Artists' has bequeathed 200 pieces of art, worth some £25m, to the state.

Tracey Emin's bed is just one of 200 pieces of art, worth some £25m, that Charles Saatchi is handing over to the nation. They come with the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea (which he doesn't actually own), "to secure the institution's future as a showcase for emerging young artists", says The Independent. It's a fitting memorial to the Svengali collector who "virtually found the Young British Artists (YBAs) movement".

The most astonishing thing about the gift, apart from its generosity, is that Saatchi announced it at all, says The Sunday Telegraph. Britain's "silent benefactor" is notoriously publicity-shy.

His detractors suggest this inscrutability is just an advertising man's wheeze to boost his personal brand. Large swathes of the art establishment have never forgiven Saatchi for masterminding the celebrated 'Labour Isn't Working' campaign that brought Margaret Thatcher to power in 1979.

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Thus while mainstream "big beasts of the arts jungle", such as Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota, are hailed as visionaries, Saatchi continues to be sniffed at. Even those whose names he made are happy to sneer. "He only recognises art with his wallet," wrote Damien Hirst.

Yet Saatchi's preference for the quiet life seems sincere. "One thing that makes my flesh crawl is reading about myself," he says. "My wife [Nigella Lawson] is very charming, very clever and very open I'm very shifty and very nervous. That's why I keep my gob shut." Baggy-eyed and "with the visual impact of a collapsed sofa", Saatchi, 67, appears an improbable consort for "a woman who turns egg-whisking into eroticism", says The Daily Telegraph. He's not a foodie, citing toast with Dairylea as his ideal supper.

Despite their huge influence on advertising, politics and the arts, Charles and his older brother, Maurice, have always been outsiders. Born in Baghdad, to Iraqi Jewish parents, they arrived in Britain in 1947, setting up Saatchi & Saatchi in 1970. Maurice was the business manager, Charles the creative. His explosive temperament made the lives of colleagues hell, notes Campaign. "Charles had a habit of tearing up work he didn't like and hurling it around the office." But by 1986, Saatchi & Saatchi was the biggest advertising agency in the world. After a 1994 revolt by shareholders, the brothers quit to form a rival, M&C Saatchi. But Charles's heart was no longer in it, says The Observer. Introduced to contemporary art by his first wife, Doris Lockhart, he rapidly established himself as the godfather of the YBAs "a one-man Medici".

Some say Saatchi's influence is waning. It isn't, says The Independent. He is still seen strolling through degree shows and private galleries. "A buzz goes round the room when Saatchi arrives," says Charlotte Mullins, former editor of Art Review. "People know he can make them."

The perfect symbolism behind Saatchi's gift

Charles Saatchi has the ultimate adman's ability "to give you something you didn't know you wanted", says The Observer.

The donation of his art collection featuring the cream of work from British artists such as the Chapman brothers, Richard Wilson and Grayson Perry looks like a case in point. "Nothing Saatchi does is without perfected, calculated symbolism": including his choice of the gallery's new name, which will become the Museum of Contemporary Art, London, when he retires. The title is "guaranteed to get under the skin" of Tate director Nicholas Serota, his long-term rival as national taste-maker. Saatchi has set himself up in direct competition.

Serota had his chance, says The Five years ago, he turned down an offer from Saatchi to donate his entire collection to the Tate on the grounds that the museum "already had commitments". That, at any rate is Saatchi's story.