Painting Worth Over $1 Million Found Amid Postcards in a London Kitchen

Irma Stern, Arab in Black (1939).
Photo: courtesy of Bonhams.

A forgotten Irma Stern painting has been unexpectedly found in a London apartment. In their September South African sale, Bonhams will offer it with a £700,000–1 million ($1.1–1.6 million) estimate.

Hannah O’Leary, a Bonhams expert who specializes in South African art, reportedly recognized Stern’s 1939 painting, titled Arab in Black, during an appraisal visit. “I spotted this masterpiece hanging in the kitchen covered in letters, postcards and bills,” she said.

According to Mail & Guardian, the present owner inherited the piece from his parents, who emigrated to the United Kingdom in the 1970s with their prized artwork in tow. Giles Peppiatt, director of Bonhams’ South African art department, said “[t]hey loved the painting and they knew it had some value, but they had no idea it was such an important work.”

It turns out Stern had donated the piece to a charity auction to help finance Nelson Mandela’s legal defense in the late 1950s. Mandela, along with other African National Congress activists at the time, were on trial for treason and faced the death penalty.


Irma Stern, Arab Priest (1945).
Photo: Courtesy of Art Market Monitor.

In recent years, works by the artist have been breaking records.

In March 2011, her painting Arab Priest (1945) achieved a record auction price for a South African work of art when it sold for £3 million ($4.7 million). A year earlier, Bahora Girl (1939) sold at Bonhams for £2.4 million ($3.7 million).

Arab in Black is slated to sell at Bonhams in London on September 9.


Irma Stern, Bahora Girl (1945).
Photo: Courtesy of Art Market Monitor.


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