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£1m South African painting discovered in a UK kitchen

Over 60 years since it was sold to fund Nelson Mandela’s legal defence, an antique South African painting has been found in a London apartment, being used as a kitchen noticeboard. It is valued at £1m.

Arab in Black, a 1939 artwork by South African painter Irma Stern, was donated to finance Nelson Mandela’s legal defence in the 1950s.

Giles Peppiatt, director of Bonhams said that the”painting was a significant part of Mandela’s defence fund – there were other works of art given to the auction, but they were very minor. This was far the most important piece”.

Arab In Black, cased in an antique Zanzibar frame. Photo: Bonhams

According to a report by The Guardian, the parents of the painting’s current owner emigrated to London in the 1970s, having taken their prized artwork with them. The piece was recognised by Hannah O’Leary, an expert in South African art during a valuation visit to the owners’ apartment.

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“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,” she said.

In the late 50s, the painting was given to by the collector Betty Suzman to a charity auction to raise funds for African National Congress (ANC) activists including Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu who were facing the death penalty for high treason.

According to O’Leary, the owners were pleasantly surprised to hear of the painting’s history and value.

“The words ‘shocked’ and ‘astonished’ would both apply to the present owners,” Peppiatt said. “They loved the painting and they knew it had some value, but they had no idea it was such an important work. In some ways they are very sorry to see it go, but it would be a great luxury to keep a million-pound painting hanging on a kitchen wall.”

The painting will go on auction in London in September for £700,000 – £1,000,000

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