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Joe Fresh creative director Joe Mimran, left, laughs after receiving a rose on the runway by Bruce Bailey after the Joe Fresh collection during the 2012 Toronto Fashion Week in Toronto on Wednesday, March 14, 2012.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

To the public at large, William Bruce Currie Bailey isn't as famous as Evan Solomon, the former CBC broadcaster with whom Mr. Bailey is alleged to have formed a controversial art-selling partnership some time in 2013. But in the international art scene, Mr. Bailey has been a name to be reckoned with as patron, collector and dealer.

He's at once a very public and private man, fond of parties and events and spinning stories, famous for grand, eccentric gestures and the "Edwardian retro" cut of his stylish clothes, yet elusive, mysterious even. One acquaintance, speaking Wednesday on condition of anonymity, as at least 10 of Mr. Bailey's acquaintances did when reached by The Globe and Mail, noted that "he's very cagey about where he lives … Friends never know where he is or where he's calling from, even when they ask."

If any place is home for this jet-setter, perhaps it's his 80-hectare ranch, complete with an art-filled mansion in southern Ontario, where he's raised Welsh Cob horses. In a 1999 profile in New York-based ARTnews magazine, which often has named Mr. Bailey to its annual top-200-art-collectors-in-the-world rankings, his age was given as 41. But in various editions of Canadian Who's Who, his birthdate is cited as March 14, 1953. Which would have made him 46 in 1999. The most recent Who's Who entry, from late 2014, contains no birthdate.

(A call to a 647 area-code number Wednesday was answered by an unidentified Bailey associate who, after consulting with another person, took this reporter's number, then rang off by saying, "Okay, I'll let Mr. Bailey know." The call was not returned.)

One thing's certain: his avidity for art, especially of the contemporary ilk, is long-standing. Mr. Bailey was born in Toronto to a lawyer father, William, and mother Jessie, and is one of three siblings (a sister, Linda, died in the early 1990s, an older brother, John, in 2014). He told The Globe and Mail in 1997 that the art bug infected him early, "as a child in Aurora, where I grew up." After obtaining a BA at Queen's in the mid-70s, he did a law degree at Dalhousie University where "I spent my university scholarship money to buy art and then had to get a night job at a newspaper to pay for school. I still have my first purchases … by the American artist Eric Fischl and one by Tim Zuck. Both were teaching at the N.S. College of Art and Design then."

In the early 1980s, Mr. Bailey decamped to New York with his wife, Gillian MacKay, who was attending the Columbia School of Journalism. The marriage was brief but resulted in the birth of a son, Samuel, now in his early 30s. Mr. Bailey went on to practise law in Toronto and Palo Alto, Calif., earning a Masters of Law from Columbia in 1987, becoming an investment dealer for Deacon Morgan McEwen Easson in Toronto before eventually setting up his own investment business, now called Bailey & Co. Inc.. In late 2003, Mr. Bailey, who is gay, remarried, this time to the Spanish artist Alfredo Ferran Calle who two years ago uploaded online an 84-minute performance art piece of him in non-stop lip-lock with fellow artist Idan Bitton.

Another acquaintance describes Mr. Bailey as "one of the most astute collectors I've ever known." Indeed, Mr. Bailey has bought both widely and in depth, in Canada, Europe and the United States, in all genres and idioms. He was an early champion of Peter Doig, Kim Dorland, Kent Monkman, Kerry James Marshall, Euan Macdonald and the late-period Paterson Ewen, in addition to being a generous lender and sponsor.