Painting that helped save life of Nelson Mandela may fetch $1.5 mn

‘Arab in Black’ by South Africa’s leading artist, Irma Stern, to go under the hammer at Bonhams on September 9

London: A painting that helped fund South African anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela’s legal defence, when he was on trial for treason in the early 1960s, has been found in a London apartment where it was being used as a notice board.

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela had been arrested in 1955 on a charge of high treason, which carried the death penalty. Pic/AFP

‘Arab in Black’ by South Africa’s leading artist, Irma Stern, is expected to fetch up to $1.5 million when it goes under the hammer at Bonhams on September 9. In the early ’60s, ‘Arab in Black’ was put up for auction to raise money for the defence of Mandela and his co-defendants in South Africa’s Treason Trial.

The 95-year-old Nobel Laureate, who died in 2013, had been arrested in 1955 on a charge of high treason, which carried the death penalty. The Treason Trial Defence Fund was set up to raise money for legal fees and to support the defendants’ families. Stern herself donated a work to the cause. The trial ran from 1956 until March 1961 when all the accused were found not guilty.

In the 1970s, the painting came to Britain when the buyer immigrated to the UK, and the work was subsequently bequeathed to the current owner. For many years, ‘Arab in Black’ hung in a London flat and was used as a notice board.

“I was undertaking a routine valuation when 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,” said Bonhams Head of South African Art, Hannah O’Leary.

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