Frederick Mulder stands beside Picasso’s Jacqueline Reading in the Royal Academy of Arts in London on Feb. 10. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News)

Saskatchewan boy, philanthropist, international art dealer: Meet Frederick Mulder

Frederick Mulder (BA'64, LLD'17), one of the world's pre-eminent experts on Picasso, hails from tiny Prairie town.

Like many who grew up in rural Saskatchewan during the 1950s, Frederick Mulder, who was interviewed by CBC News, curled, played hockey and golfed in people's backyards. Looking back now on his childhood in the tiny town of Eston, there was just one indication of the unconventional career he had waiting. 

"My ex-wife used to say, 'You used to go door to door selling Christmas cards, now you just go city to city selling prints.'" 

Not just any prints but Picassos, Munches and Matisses.

Mulder, 76, is one of the world's foremost experts in the field of 19th- and 20th-century European prints. He has sold art to private dealers and museums around the world. 

As he walks around the Picasso and Paper exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, his faint British accent is a reminder that the man has been in England now for over 50 years. 

"This is it. This is the one we sold," said Mulder. "This is a linocut from 1962 of Jacqueline, his wife."

Mulder graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a BA in English then attended Brown University in Rhode Island on a scholarship but made a last-minute switch to philosophy. His thesis adviser suggested he write his dissertation at Oxford or Cambridge. 

"I thought that was a lovely idea," Mulder says with a smile.

Borrowing to buy Picassos

With the help of a generous Canada Council fellowship, Mulder hopped on a plane bound for England with a book about investments. The last chapter focused on a man who collected the etchings of 17th-century master Rembrandt van Rijn.

Upon arriving, Mulder attended an auction containing one of the artist's prints. With little experience in purchasing art, he picked up the phone to seek advice — and ended up dialling the famous Sotheby's auction house.

"I treated London just like it was, as if it was this small town, really. I thought I could call anybody up or go and see anyone."

Mulder bought his first Rembrandt print in 1966 and was instantly hooked.

He later sold it and used some of the money to go to Paris. It was there he met up with a man named Paul Proute whose stock included Picassos, including an impression of The Circus — the only Picasso Mulder owned.

"I said to him, well, I'd like to buy yours. And he said, 'I have a whole bunch of them if, you know, if you want more than one.'"

Mulder bought eight. But had to borrow the money to do it. 

"I came back, told my bank that I had done this and said, 'I hear you have these things called overdrafts,'" he says with a laugh. "The bank manager was amused. I don't think he'd ever had a graduate student asking if he could, you know, borrow money to buy some Picassos." 

Within two weeks, he says, he'd sold every Picasso for double what he'd paid. 

It was the start of a formula that propelled Mulder's career forward: buy strategically, sell honestly, profit slowly. Eventually, the art would go for as much as $3 million. 

Despite his success, Mulder never aspired to own a yacht or go on expensive vacations. In fact, his 20-year-old Volkswagen was stolen a few years ago so now he rides a bicycle or uses Uber to get around.

Instead, Mulder uses that money to give back. 

Read more at https://www.cbc.ca/news/.

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