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Mandela prison drawing sells for Shs424m

A worker holds a sketch by Nelson Mandela ‘The Cell Door, Robben Island’ on 26 April, 2019 in New York City. Picture: AFP

The wax pastel crayon drawing shows a few bars of the cell door and a key in the lock, sketched in purple.

It is a drawing by late South African president Nelson Mandela of the door of his prison cell on Robben Island — where he was held for 18 years. And it sold on May 02 in New York for $112,575 (Approx. Shs424 million). It exceeded the top end of the estimated range provided by Bonhams, which put its value at $60,000 to $90,000.

Tilted `The Cell Door, Robben Island’, it is said to have been completed by the Nobel peace laureate in 2002. The work is one of the few that Mandela — who was jailed for 27 years in total and inspired the struggle against apartheid — kept until his death in 2013. It was previously held by Mandela’s daughter, Pumla Makaziwe Mandela.

South Africa’s first black president did a total of 20 to 25 drawings, according to Giles Peppiatt, the auction house’s director of modern African art. Some were reproduced as lithographs to raise money for the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Mandela was jailed from 1962 to 1990. He was held at Robben Island off Cape Town from 1964 to 1982. Mandela served as South African president from 1994 to 1999.

“Holding a painting of one of the most important men of the twentieth century … is something remarkable for any collector,” said Giles Peppiatt, “This is the first work of Nelson Mandela sold on the market”. Giles Peppiatt called the work “personal” and “moving”.

Others have described it as a “very simple work” and “sober”. Never exposed publicly so far, it simply shows, from the outside, the door of the cell with a few bars and the key on the lock. It is one of the rare paintings that Mandela kept until his death in 2013.

“After leaving the presidency in 1999, he (Mandela) started painting, he had more time at his disposal.”

He is said to have painted a total of 20 to 25 paintings, according to Giles Peppiatt. There were claims of forgeries when five prints of Robben Island prison went on sale in London’s Belgravia Gallery in 2009. The signatures on the pictures were said not to be Mandela’s according to his lawyer, but the gallery said it could prove authenticity.

It was a twist in a painful story. Mandela created the images to raise money for his charities for homeless children and victims of Aids. He took lessons with an artist, Varenka Paschke, under whose guidance he made his own drawings, based on newly taken photographs of the prison island; his strong colours infuse the lithographs that a printmaker produced from his originals. But the experiment turned sour in 2005 when Mandela sued his lawyer, Ismael Ayob, for failing to account properly for sales of the lithographs. He even claimed some of “his” signatures were forged. Ayob stopped selling them and in 2007 paid Mandela.

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