It was recently brought to the attention of a lucky, unnamed Sotheby’s client that what they thought was just their kitchen bulletin board is actually a painting by South African artist Irma Stern called Arab in Black that could be worth in the neighborhood of $1.5 million. Hannah O’Leary, the head of the department of South African art at Bonhams, had come to the apartment for a routine appraisal of her client’s art collection when she made the discovery, according to CNBC.
“I spotted this masterpiece hanging in the kitchen covered in letters, postcards, and bills,” O’Leary said in a statement. “It was a hugely exciting find even before I learned of its political significance.”
According to Bonhams, the painting has a historical tie to Nelson Mandela—Stern donated the painting to an auction to raise money for Mandela’s legal fees, and the buyer eventually settled in the U.K. (That buyer gave it to the current owner who apparently had no idea of its value.) At the time, Mandela was charged with high treason following his arrest in 1955 and would have faced the death penalty if he was found guilty (he was not). Regardless, the auction house is touting the work—which it will see in London on September 9 (estimated at $1 million–$1.5 million)—as the painting that saved Mandela’s life.