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.
'Arab in Black' by South Africa's leading artist, Irma Stern, is expected to fetch up to USD 1.5 million when it goes under the hammer at Bonhams on September 9.
In the early 1960s, 'Arab in Black' was put up for auction to raise money for the defense of Mandela and his co-defendants in South Africa's Treason Trial.
Mandela had been arrested in 1955 on a charge of high treason which carried the death penalty. The Treason Trial Defense 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 emigrated to the UK and 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.
In 1955, the African National Congress (ANC) sent a large number of volunteers into the townships and the countryside to collect 'freedom demands' from the people of South Africa.
The resulting Freedom Charter was officially adopted on June 26, 1955 at a Congress of the People in Kliptown. The meeting was attended by approximately three thousand delegates from the ANC and other anti-apartheid groups but was broken up by a police raid on the second day.
A total of 156 people were arrested, including Mandela and Walter Sisulu. They were charged with "high treason and a countrywide conspiracy to use violence to overthrow the present government and replace it with a communist state". The punishment for high treason was death.
In 1961, the case against the accused was judged not to have been made and the accused were discharged.
Three years later Mandela, Sisulu and six others were eventually given a life sentence for treason at the Rivonia Trial of 1964.
The 95-year-old Nobel Laureate died in 2013.