Nasser Khalili

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Nasser Khalili
David portrait.jpg
Native name ناصر داوود خلیلی
Born (1945-12-18) 18 December 1945 (age 71)
Isfahan, Iran
Residence London, England
Alma mater Queens College, City University of New York
School of Oriental and African Studies
Occupation Scholar
Art collector
Spouse(s) Marion Easton[1]
Children Daniel

Khalili Family Trust

Nasser D Khalili website

Nasser David Khalili (Persian: ناصر داوود خلیلی‎‎, born 18 December 1945) is a British-Iranian scholar, collector, and philanthropist, based in London. He is a British citizen.[2] Khalili is the founder of the Khalili Collections, said to include the finest and most comprehensive private collection of Islamic art.[3] Khalili was born in Iran, before leaving to study in the United States. He graduated from Queens College, City University of New York in 1974 with a computer science degree. He later received a PhD degree in Islamic lacquer in 1988.

He first started to collect art in New York during the 1970s, while spending a lot of time in London investing in property during the 1980s. Over the coming decades, Khalili created eight distinct art collections under the auspices of the Khalili Family Trust. He is said to have initially generated capital in the 1980s through the sale of a company and also venture capital. Since then his wealth has grown substantially, which he stated in an interview was due to "dealing in art, commodities and real estate." Khalili is known for the purchase of a number of large properties in London. His home in Kensington Palace Gardens, was sold to Bernie Ecclestone for £50 million. He is the co-owner of Sixty London on Holborn Viaduct, currently leased by Amazon as their London office.

In 1995, he founded the Maimonides Interfaith Foundation where he serves as chairman. He is a UNESCO goodwill ambassador, a trustee of the City of Jerusalem, and has received knighthoods from two Popes.[4][5][6]

Due to the rarity of his collections and specialist nature, commentators have drawn up different values. Khalili stated in an interview when asked about his collections and wealth that he "realised that no one was representing the core and anchor of any religion, and so I took it upon myself to buy everything that was available...I found things that belonged to a great heritage that was just sitting there unnoticed...They were displaced from history and deserved to be preserved and recognised".[7]

Early life and education[edit]

Khalili was born in 1945 in the city of Isfahan, Iran, the fourth of five children, to a Jewish family of art dealers.[8][9][10] Khalili and his family moved to Tehran, when he was only a few months old.

Khalili was schooled in Tehran and wrote a book on "geniuses of the world" aged 14 following an argument with a teacher. The book was published and made him a celebrity; he appeared on television and wrote newspaper columns.[9][10] Khalili completed his national service as a medic in the Iranian Army.[11] Khalili left Iran in 1967 for the US with $750 earned from sales of his book to study for a bachelor's degree in computer science at Queens College, City University of New York, and graduated in 1974.[8]

Business and collecting career[edit]

Khalili started his business career trading in art, before moving into property development and commodities later on in his career. Khalili began collecting art in New York City in the 1970s, keeping the best pieces for his own collection.[10][7]

He began visiting London auction houses in the mid 1970s, and established his own dealership in Mayfair, London in 1978.[9] Khalili initially traded in Persian lacquerware, and subsequently received a PhD in Islamic lacquer from SOAS, University of London in 1988.[10] Khalili's dealership was based in Mayfair's Clifford Street. Khalili benefited from the low prices of Islamic art following the Iranian revolution in 1979, and the low trading volumes during the Iran–Iraq War in the 1980s. Kahlili's family left Iran in the aftermath of the revolution.[9]

In the mid-1980s, the scale of Khalili's collection greatly expanded. In 1992, he was interviewed by The Independent following his growing collection of Islamic art. In the early 1990s, he published a catalogue of his collection in 27 separate volumes. The volumes were written by a number of leading Islamic scholars. According to the article, suspicions in the art industry were that Khalili was assembling the collection on behalf of a rich investor. The release of the collection under his own name stopped those suspicions and showed Khalili's collection as his own and his family.[12]

During the same period, Khalili was an art advisor to Hassanal Bolkiah, The Sultan of Brunei. After serving as his advisor,[12][8] Khalili subsequently helped persuade the sultan to donate £10 million to create the Brunei Gallery at SOAS, University of London.[8]

In 1992, Khalili offered to lend his Islamic art collection to the British government for 15 years for public display in a "museum building in central London". The building was to be known as the Nasser D Khalili Museum, with the museum's running costs and insurance to be publicly funded. The offer was made with the potential for turning the donation into a gift at the expiration of the 15-year period. The Conservative politician Lord Young of Graffham and the public relations executive Tim Bell lobbied the government to accept Khalili's offer.[10] The proposed arrangement was criticised by Anna Somers Cocks, the editor of The Art Newspaper who said of it that " the end of the 15 years he [Khalili] would decide what happened to it. There is no guarantee that it would go to the nation and he stipulated that during the time it was on display he reserved the right to carry on dealing in any of the pieces".[9]


Khalili has assembled eight distinct art collections under the auspices of the Khalili Family Trust. The collections are curated under Islamic Art (700–2000), Hajj and the arts of pilgrimage (700–2000), Aramaic documents (535-324 BC), Japanese Art of the Meiji Period (1868–1912), Japanese Kimono (1700–2000), Swedish Textiles (1700–1900), Spanish Damascened Metalwork (1850–1900) and Enamels of the World (1700–2000). Together, the eight collections comprise some 25,000 works. His Islamic art collection extends to 20,000 items and is the largest of its kind held privately in the world.[13]

Khalili said in a 2012 interview of his Islamic art collection that he "...realised that no one was representing the core and anchor of that religion, and so I took it upon myself to buy everything that was available...I found things that belonged to a great heritage that was just sitting there unnoticed...They were displaced from history and deserved to be preserved and recognised".[7]

The most valuable object in Khalili's collection might be Rashid al-Din Fadlallah's history of the world, written in Iran in 1314, which cost Khalili £12 million in 1990. Khalili has subsequently estimated its value at £100 million.[8][9] Individual catalogues have been published for each of the collections. Khalili estimated that the publication of the catalogues and associated research papers would cost him between £5-7 million.[10]


Khalili's collections have featured in numerous museums and specialist exhibitions around the world. Selected objects from Khalili's collections have been shown in several major worldwide museums and been displayed as part of international exhibitions such as the British Museum,[7] the Victoria & Albert Museum and Somerset House (London); the State Hermitage Museum (St Petersburg); the Alhambra Palace (Granada); the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York); Portland Art Museum (Oregon, USA); and the Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam) to name a few.

The majority of Khalili's artworks are kept in storage in London and Geneva.[9]

Property development[edit]

18–19 Kensington Palace Gardens[edit]

18–19 Kensington Palace Gardens

In 1995 Khalili bought 18 and 19 Kensington Palace Gardens for £40 million. 19 had been the former Egyptian embassy and 18 was formerly part of the Russian embassy.[9] Khalili's purchase of the property and its subsequent refurbishment cost £84 million. The works involving 400 craftsmen were believed to have been second in scale only to the restoration of Windsor Castle after the 1992 fire. Marble was imported from the same Indian quarry that had been used to build the Taj Mahal for pillars for the building. It was bought by businessman Bernie Ecclestone in 2001 for £54 million. Ecclestone later sold the property to industrialist Lakshmi Mittal.[14]

Sixty London[edit]

60 Holborn Viaduct

In 1997, Khalili bought Bath House, an office building on Holborn Viaduct for £7 million. In 2007 planning permission was granted for an 11-storey office building called The Wave and subsequently in 2009 Khalili acquired the freehold from the crown estates. The building, which eventually completed in 2013, designed by the architects Kohn Pederson Fox Associates. Since 2010 the project had been a partnership between Khalili's property company Favermead and AXA Real Estate Investment Managers.[15] The new 230,000 sq ft building was later leased by Amazon in 2013.[16][17] In 2014 the building became one of the 13 winners in the Urban Land Institute’s Global Awards for Excellence, citing the blending of modern and historic architectural elements.[18]

UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador[edit]

Khalili designated as a goodwill Ambassador by The Director-General of UNESCO Ms. Irina Bokova

In 2012, Khalili was honored by UNESCO as a Goodwill Ambassador for his work in the pursuit of peace, education and culture amongst nations. In his role as a Goodwill Ambassador, Khalili spreads the ideals of UNESCO through his position as a world-renowned scholar, collector and philanthropist. He helps galvanize public interest and support for the purposes and principles of UNESCO to significant audiences, including decision makers.

He has addressed high-level dignitaries, politicians, civil society leaders and religious authority figure at a number of UNESCO events and on a range of themes including, ‘The role of interfaith harmony in the rapprochement of cultures and nations’; ‘The importance of fostering and strengthening intercultural dialogue and understanding at the international, regional and national levels’; and ‘How does culture drive and enable social cohesion and inclusion’.

He has made keynote addresses at the launch of the International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013 – 2022) in August 2013, at the UNESCO International Forum in Kazakhstan; at the UNESCO International Congress in May 2013 in China where he spoke about Culture: Key to Sustainable Development; and at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Saudi Arabia [19] in December 2013 to mark the launch of the UNESCO forum on Building Knowledge Societies for Sustainable Human Development. Most recently, in January 2015, he addressed dignitaries and journalists on Intercultural Dialogue in Fragmented Societies at the UNESCO headquarters at an event organised in the wake of the attacks in Paris.

Personal life[edit]

Philanthropic work[edit]

Through his foundations and trusts, Khalili has made many substantial donations to a number of different organisations, institutions, and charities. This includes donations in the field of education, most notably, an endowment of £2.5 million to the University of Oxford [20] for the establishment of the Khalili Research Centre for the Art and Material Culture of the Middle East,[21] which was opened by the Chancellor of Oxford University, Lord Patten, in July 2005.The Khalili Family Trust’s support continues to the present day, notably with another substantial donation in 2011.

In 1989, Khalili donated £600,000 to establish The Khalili Chair of Islamic Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and gave a further £200,000 in 2003 for the refurbishment of the lecture theatre there. He also made an endowment of £51,000 in 1992 to the University of Oxford for a Research Fellowship in Islamic Art.[citation needed]

In the early 1990s, he was solely responsible for securing £10million from H.M. the Sultan of Brunei to build the Brunei Gallery at School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. In celebration of HM The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, Khalili has donated over £1.5million so far to The Maimonides Interfaith Foundation for its educational project.

Maimonides Interfaith Foundation[edit]

Khalili founded the charitable Maimonides Interfaith Foundation in 1995 to promote "understanding, cooperation and peace between Jews, Christians and Muslims internationally through art, culture and education".[7][22] The foundation created the Maimonides Interfaith Explorers, a free online educational resource for children aged 10 to 11.[23]

A panorama of Jerusalem from the House of Peace series

In 1983, Khalili commissioned a series of five paintings by the artist Ben Johnson called the House of Peace to promote "peace and harmony" between Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.[24] The foundation also donated thousands of copies of The Timeline History of Islamic Art and Architecture (Vision of Splendour) written by Khalili himself, to schools in the UK and Islamic countries.[25]


Visiting The Vatican with Pope John Paul II on the occasion of honouring Prof. Khalili as Knight of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St Sylvester (KSS) 2005

He has been awarded many other honours, including Trustee of the City of Jerusalem,[26] and in 2007 the High Sheriff of Greater London Award for his cultural contribution to London. He is Knight Commander of the Royal Order of Francis I (KCFO).[26] He is exceptional in having received Knighthoods from two Popes. Pope John Paul II honoured him as Knight of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St Sylvester (KSS) and Pope Benedict XVI further elevated him to Knight Commander in the said order (KCSS) for his work in the pursuit of peace, education and culture amongst nations.[26] In 2012, he was further honoured in this field by UNESCO, as a Goodwill Ambassador/[27] In 2014, he was the recipient of the Laureate of the Dialogue of Cultures Award at the French National Assembly and consequently in early 2016 he was awarded the Rank of Officier in the Ordre national de la Légion d’Honneur by the French president.

Honours & awards[edit]


In a 2010 interview Khalili said that his collecting in the mid 1980s was funded by his dealings in venture capital, having profited from shares in a company that developed technology to treat tumors, and that he made $15 million from the sale of a company that manufactured indigestion pills in 1987.[8] In 1992, Khalili had described his wealth as deriving from "dealing in art, commodities and real estate".[10] Khalili has said that his collecting was primarily funded by his property investments from 1980.[8]

In 2007 Khalili's wealth was estimated at £5.8 billion by the Sunday Times Rich List, but he was removed from subsequent editions of the list. In 2007 and 2008 Forbes estimated Khalili's wealth at $1.3 billion, but he dropped off the 2014 edition of the list.[28] In 2008 The Art Newspaper wrote that 'a £1 billion valuation is believed more likely' than previously claimed higher amounts.[9] Khalili has claimed that he has spent $650 million on art.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Syndney Morning Herald: "For the love of art: Iranian student with $US750 turns billionaire" 31 March 2010
  2. ^ "Biographical Notes" in Earle, Joe (ed.) Shibata Zeshin: Masterpieces of Japanese Lacquer from the Khalili Collection. London: Kibo Foundation, 1997. p80.
  3. ^ "Healing the world with art". The Independent. 15 April 2004. 
  4. ^ "Maimonides Interfaith Foundation". Charter for Compassion. 
  5. ^ "File:Prof. Khalili Trustee of the City of Jerusalem certificate.jpg - Wikimedia Commons". Retrieved 18 June 2017. 
  6. ^ }
  7. ^ a b c d e Susan Moore (12 May 2012). "A leap of faith". The Financial Times. Retrieved 7 March 2015. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g William Green (30 March 2010). "Iranian Student with $750 Turns Billionaire Made by Islamic Art". Bloomberg L.P. Retrieved 7 March 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "The Treasure Seeker", Mark Hollingsworth, ES Magazine, London, 27 March 2009
  10. ^ a b c d e f g "Art Market: Mysterious gifts from the East: Who is the man who has collected Islam's finest treasures and offered them to Britain as a pounds 1bn bequest? Geraldine Norman finds out". The Independent. 13 December 1992. Retrieved 8 March 2015. 
  11. ^ "Professor Nasser D Khalili". Debretts People of Today. Debretts. Retrieved 6 March 2016. 
  12. ^ a b Norman, Geraldine (12 December 1992). "Art Market: Mysterious gifts from the East: Who is the man who has collected Islam's finest treasures and offered them to Britain as a pounds 1bn bequest?". The Independent. 
  13. ^ "Mittal Tops Sunday Times U.K. Rich List; Billionaire Club Grows". Bloomberg. 28 April 2007. 
  14. ^ "Bernie Ecclestone sold £57m dream home after his wife refused to move in". Daily Telegraph. 6 March 2009. Retrieved 6 March 2016. 
  15. ^ James Buckley (2 December 2010). "AXA Real Estate and Favermead complete Bath House tie-up". Estates Gazette. Retrieved 6 March 2016. 
  16. ^ "Qataris have sticky time while judge struggles to tell ancient from modern". Evening Standard. 28 May 2010. Retrieved 6 March 2016. 
  17. ^ Christopher Williams (28 May 2010). "Amazon signs lease on 210,000 sq ft central London offices". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 6 March 2016. 
  18. ^ "Sixty London 2014 Global Awards for Excellence". 21 October 2014. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ "£2m gift for Middle Eastern art". BBC News. 9 July 2004. Retrieved 19 May 2010. 
  21. ^ Webmaster. "The Khalili Research Centre - Home". Retrieved 9 May 2016. 
  22. ^ "Maimondes Interfaith Foundation - About us". Maimonides Interfaith Foundation website. Retrieved 5 March 2016. 
  23. ^ "MIE". Maimonides Interfaith Explorers website. Retrieved 5 March 2016. 
  24. ^ "House of Peace". Nasser Khalili website. Retrieved 5 March 2016. 
  25. ^ "Visions of Splendour in Islamic Art and Culture". Nasser Khalili website. Retrieved 5 March 2016. 
  26. ^ a b c "Khalili". Retrieved 9 May 2016. 
  27. ^
  28. ^ "Nasser Khalili". Forbes (magazine). Retrieved 17 April 2016. 

External links[edit]