(Arab in Black, from artist Irma Stern’s Zanzibar period, depicts an Arab Zanzibari man. Credit: Bonhams)
Let’s hope the next time you repurpose your art, it isn’t worth millions.
That’s precisely what happened in London when Hannah O’Learey, an expert in South African Art for the auction house Bonhams, stepped into a client’s home to appraise the collection.
“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”, stated O’Learey in a Bonham’s press release.
“Arab in Black”, a 1939 work by Irma Stern, an important South African painter, has a fascinating history. In the early 1960s the painting was auctioned off, to raise money for Nelson Mandela’s, Treason Trial Defense Fund. The money assisted in legal bills and aid for the defendant’s families.
Subsequently in 1961, all involved were found not guilty.
“This painting was a significant part of Mandela’s defense fund – there were other works of art given to the auction, but they were very minor. This was by far the most important piece,” Giles Peppiatt, director of Bonhams South African art department, told the Guardian.
The parent’s of the current owner emigrated to the United Kingdom in the 1970s.
Holding additional value is the paintings hand-carved wooden frame, fashioned out of antique doors. Such pieces of wood are now barred from export.
How to avoid this potentially costly mistake?
”Anything we find that looks like it has some age to it, we always look at the name and do a quick eBay search,” says Jen Meneely, founder of thrift shopping blog, Too Cheap Blonds. “For dishes we flip it over to see if it has a name on it or if it’s stamped or numbered. eBay is our best friend.”
Two other Stern paintings, “Bahora Girl” and “Arab Priest,” sold in recent years for $3.7 million and $4.7 million, respectively.
The newly rediscovered work will be auctioned on September 9th at the Bonham’s South African Sale. The auction house estimates it will sell for between $1.1 and $1.5 million.
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