The late Brian Saunders.

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Born in Southend, Essex, Brian left school at 16 and undertook a career with the local Gas Board. He soon acquired a thorough knowledge of gas fitting, plumbing and building maintenance, specialising in central heating systems and general house construction. At the end of a six-year apprenticeship he chose self-employment and joined the rapidly expanding building industry of the 1960s.

In 1975, Brian accepted a contract to fit heating systems in factories and houses in Birmingham. He took accommodation in Edgbaston where, in 1976, he met his future wife, Jacky. From there, he established a successful business fitting heating systems for housing associations and in new housing developments across the Midlands.

He was joined in business by his old school friend Tony Fidgeon, who moved to Birmingham from Essex in 1984. Before long, Brian was employing 15 people and the company built their own showrooms and offices in south Birmingham.

Brian began collecting paintings and antiques in the late 1980s. Towards the mid-1990s he began to wind down the heating business, his interest in art and antiques now more than a collecting passion. He established Saunders Fine Art, primarily to sell traditional paintings and works of art.

Choosing not to take on a permanent gallery, in November 1997 Saunders Fine Art made its public debut at the high-profile Antiques for Everyone event at the NEC, with its 600+ exhibitors. Stock included an important picture of The Battle of Naseby by Sir John Gilbert. The painting, one of the most expensive at the fair, sold to a private collector for over £90,000.

This was a confidence-building beginning and Saunders Fine Art soon established a name for larger, genre paintings, a sector of art market not considered popular at the time. Brian never chose to make fashionable choices when it came to acquiring stock. He took large stands at fairs which he filled with a variety of paintings from the past 300 years.

Before long, Saunders Fine Art was a fixture at most major fairs around the country. These included four annual events at the NEC, the twice-yearly Chelsea Antiques Fair, the Olympia Fine Art & Antiques Fair, June and November, The Kensington Antiques Fair, The LAPADA Fair (at the Royal Academy and subsequent venues); and regular events at Chester, Harrogate, Buxton and the Cotswolds.

Global customer base

Customers from across the world bought from Saunders Fine Art, including well-known names from commerce and industry, and showbusiness personalities such as the actor and producer Stephen Berkoff.

Saunders Fine Art continued to exhibit at fairs until the early 2020s. It was in 2015 that Brian first developed signs of cancer, which he fought gallantly for approximately eight years.

He leaves his widow, Jacky, and many, many close friends across the world. Above all, he will always be remembered for his energy, optimism and boundless bonhomie. He greeted everyone with a smile. He will be greatly missed.