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Label: irma stern

Friday 24th July 2015The Lost Painting Bulletin Board

It's almost a staple of daytime television, and the bread and butter of shows like Antiques Roadshow, among others: Joe or Jane Average discovers that the coffee table they've been using for years is actual an heirloom piece from a famous furniture designer, or the candlesticks they inherited from their mother were once owned by some member of the English royal family, and is worth quite a pretty penny. Typically, finding something with a valuations in the thousands is remarkably rare, and finding something even more valuable almost never happens. So imagine the shock of a Bonham's auction house art appraiser who was making a routine examination of a client's collection when she stopped in the kitchen, and spotted a painting being used as a bulletin board - one that turned out to be worth an estimated $1.5 million dollars!

The piece, 'Arab in Black' by prominent South African artist Irma Stern, is not just a remarkably valuable piece of art, however. Back in the 1950 in South Africa, Nelson Mandela had been arrested for high treason, an offense which carried the death penalty. Though he was eventually completely cleared, the cost of maintaining a legal defense for such a high profile charge is naturally commensurately high, and Stern donated the painting to an auction designed to raise money to help pay for his legal counsel costs. The buyer at that auction eventually moved to the UK and settled down, and gave it to the current owner (who wishes to remain nameless).

The auction house is naturally trying to make some publicity hay with this element of the story, billing it as the painting that saved Mandela's life, which is something of an exaggeration. Nevertheless, as in all of these hidden treasure stories, the value of the piece is only ever enhanced by the history and provenance of the piece - and who knows, maybe they're even correct! It will be sold this September in London.

Hannah O'Leary, the Bonham's appraiser who discovered the painting, explained, “I spotted this masterpiece hanging in the kitchen covered in letters, postcards, and bills. It was a hugely exciting find even before I learned of its political significance.” Maybe it's time to go through all your items that you take for granted around your home - you never know what kind of masterpiece might be turned up by re-examining things in a new light!
 

Posted on July 24th 2015 on 08:45pm
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