The man ranked by dealers as the world's largest art buyer of recent years has been removed from his position as chairman of the cultural committee that buys treasures for the rich Gulf state of Qatar.

Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed al-Thani has set the art world alight in recent years with aggressive purchases of thousands of objects ranging from fine art, books, manuscripts and antiquities to vintage cars and old bicycles.

Experts estimate his purchases have far exceeded £1bn (€1.45bn) and his acquisitions at auction have often raised questions because of the high prices he has paid including more than £900,000 for a fly whisk.

As head of Qatar's National Council for Culture, Arts and Heritage, Sheikh Saud combed the art world for treasures to fill five or more museums proposed by the Qatar government as part of a plan to turn its capital, Doha, into a centre for Arab and Islamic tourism.

The museums include one for Islamic art, designed by the famed Chinese-American architect I.M Pei, and a spectacular national library.

A brief note on the council's website indicates that the Qatari emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifah al Thani, has made a decision to “reestablish the NCCAH”. In place of Sheikh Saud, the website now names Mohamad Abdu Arahim Kafud as the council's chairman. No explanation was given. Sheikh Saud is a first cousin of the emir, and his side of the family ruled the emirate until 1972, when Sheikh Hamad's father took over in a quiet coup.

The move was the talk of the annual international fine art and antiques fair that began on Friday in Maastricht, the Netherlands. Sheikh Saud was given a special advance viewing of last year's fair.

Dealers said there was discussion of what impact his departure would have on art prices. Some collectors were also said to be keen to ensure that the development did not adversely affect the objects already purchased by Sheikh Saud, many of which are in storage in Doha.

In 1999, Sheikh Saud caused comment by paying £507,000 for a single photograph: Gustave Le Gray's Grande Vague à Sète.

Sheikh Saud, who has houses in London and Qatar, could not be reached for comment on Friday.

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