The life of Michael McKee: from Monaco Grand Prix to Monaco Fine Arts

michael mckee monaco

When Formula 1 driver Michael McKee wrote to Prince Rainier III in 1960 asking to open a new gallery in the Principality, no one would have believed the result would be a vibrant place for the contemporary art scene that still thrives today.  

Tales of former racing car drivers abound in a place like Monaco, where the Grand Prix has taken on legends of mythic proportions, but not many have taken such a volte face as Michael McKee.  


McKee was a racing driver of the old school, who took part in the Monaco Grand Prix Junior in 1960, Le Mans and Goodwood, racing alongside the likes of Stirling Moss and Graham Hill. His promising career ended early, not due to a tragedy like many drivers of his time, but due to a flurry of amazing opportunities.  

“At the end of the 1961 racing season, I decided to retire from motor racing,” says McKee in his as-yet unpublished autobiography, “not because I had lost interest, but because I had developed a number of businesses and wanted to expand them for the future.” 


One of these businesses was a budding career in art. McKee had already dabbled in art in a small way, buying up works by 19th century students from a local art school. This led to the opening of a gallery in Norwich to showcase these and other works, then another in London.

Wanting to expand his horizons, and on a whim knowing that Prince Rainier III was interested in making Monaco a cultural hub, McKee wrote to him and asked if he could open a new gallery in the Principality.

That simple letter made into the hands of the Prince and before long, McKee had been invited to come to Monaco where he met with the Prince’s chief minister, Pierre Notari, who secured a space for him on Casino Square. It was a windowless hole in the wall that had been a former ladies cloakroom for Le Sporting d’Hiver, but McKee knew a good prospect when he saw one and leapt at it.


michael mckee monaco
A racing car sponsored by Monaco Fine Arts at a recent Historic Grand Prix in the Principality. Photo supplied and owned by the McKee family


This hole in the wall became Monaco Fine Arts, which opened its door in 1976 with glamourous patrons who included Prince Rainier and Princess Grace, who were great supporters, David Niven, Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant. The gallery featured an eclectic – and exclusive – mix of works by established contemporary artists sharing wall space alongside impressionist masters, such as Renoir. It was soon a place that art lovers from all walks could appreciate.  

That being said, Monaco’s clientele was far different than London’s. Here they wanted more pieces in the modern art vein, which meant McKee had to decide what made the cut.  

“I admit that when it came to choosing works to display in the gallery, I had to rely on nearly 50 years of experience,” said McKee. “Obviously many artists would come into the gallery offering their work. On average, we had five people a week coming in and we probably ended up accepting two a year. I was selling between 80 and 90% of paintings by modern living artists because they were a lot easier. You could ring them up and commission work that exactly suited the client’s needs.” 

The gallery quickly became so popular that McKee was even asked to sponsor a Formula 1 race car driven by Ronnie Petersen at the 1976 Monaco Grand Prix; a rare example of a small private business advertising at an enormous event where big corporate sponsors reign.  

McKee’s interest in racing, and art, continued until his death in 2016 at the age of 82, just a few years after selling Monaco Fine Arts. The building has now been demolished and replaced with One Monte-Carlo, but the gallery still thrives at its location on Avenue Henry Dunant under the direction of Evelina Giannoulidi.  


Sign up for the Monaco Life newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 


Photos supplied and owned by the McKee family

Can I water my garden during the drought?

water garden drought

Monaco Life explains the latest rules and restrictions on watering gardens, potagers and green spaces that are affecting residents in the Principality and the French Riviera. 

Authorities in Monaco recently made the decision to declare and activate a drought plan. Stage Two or the “alerte” level came into force on Saturday 13th May. 

This brings the Principality somewhat into line with much of southern France – and further afield – where water restrictions have been in place since early 2023.  

Alongside new rules on car washing, which is forbidden unless at professional sites with high-pressure equipment and water recycling systems, and boat cleaning, which has been limited to specific time periods, one of the principal targets in Monaco’s restrictions is green spaces.  

Lawns, flower beds and pots 

For areas classed as alert level, which includes Monaco and some parts of the Alpes-Maritimes and Var, watering is only permitted between 8pm and 8am to reduce evaporation. The amount of water used should also be reduced by 20%.  

In the areas that find themselves in an “alerte renforcée” or “crise” classification, watering is banned except for trees and shrubs that have been planted directly in the ground for less than a year and outside of water restrictions. In this case, night-time watering is permitted. 

Vegetable gardens 

Similarly, vegetable gardens and potagers can also only be watered between 8pm and 8am. The difference here is that vegetable plots in the highest “crise” level of water restrictions can continue to be watered at night if they have a drip irrigation system installed.  

Ponds and fountains 

Under Monaco’s new rules, public and private fountains are closed unless they operate “on a closed circuit or using a push button system”. Residents are also banned from filling, topping up or emptying garden ponds unless they important to local wildlife.  

Swimming pools and jacuzzis 

The filling of whirlpools, jacuzzis, paddling pools and public or private swimming pools is now prohibited in Monaco unless “absolutely necessary” or as part of works already underway. Similar rules apply over the border in France.  


Read more:

Monaco to impose water restrictions from Saturday

Can I fill up my swimming pool during the drought?


Sign up for the Monaco Life newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  

 Photo source: Priscilla du Preez