Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Controversial Mandela lithographs are back on the market

LONDON. The sale of lithographic prints produced by Nelson Mandela is to be resumed by London’s Belgravia Gallery to mark the South African statesman’s 90th birthday on 18 July. The lithographs were withdrawn from sale three years ago, after Mr Mandela initiated legal action against his former lawyer, Ismail Ayob, who had originally encouraged Mr Mandela to agree to the production of lithographic prints based on his art. The idea was to raise funds for homeless children and AIDS victims (The Art Newspaper, June 2005, p6).

At the time, it was claimed that unauthorised prints were being marketed with false Mandela signatures and proceeds were failing to reach his designated charities. Mr Ayob denied any wrongdoing. After a complex series of legal moves, the case now appears to have stalled.

The lithographic prints were produced in editions of between 350 and 1,000, and the images relate to Mr Mandela’s imprisonment by the apartheid regime on Robben Island. They were published in 2002-03.

Last month Belgravia’s Anna Hunter told us that she had commissioned South African handwriting specialist Cecil Greenfield to examine her stock, and he has confirmed that they all have genuine signatures. She personally witnessed some of the lithographs being signed on 9 December 2002.

In the catalogue for their forthcoming Mandela exhibition, Ms Hunter states: “In 2005, a legal dispute arose—still unsettled at the time of writing—with claims that funds did not reach the nominated charities. Belgravia Gallery has therefore used part of its proceeds of sale to make donations to two children’s charities in Africa and India.” These are the Sebastian Hunter Memorial Trust (which funds several schools in India) and MaAfrika Tikkun (which helps those in extreme poverty or with AIDS in South Africa, backed with Mandela’s support).

The Belgravia Gallery now has a stock of just over 100 prints, and the 12 images are going on sale at prices ranging from £4,000 to £13,000 each.

Ms Hunter has not approached Mr Mandela’s office to ask about the resumption of sales, so no specific approval has been given. Nevertheless, she believes that the correct “due diligence” has been undertaken.

There are two series of prints: “My Robben Island” and “Reflections of Robben Island” (which includes The Guard Tower, left, £10,500), each in a set of five. There are also two prints depicting Mandela’s handprint, known as Hands of Africa (£12,500).

The Robben Island prints were very loosely based on photographs, which were taken by Grant Warren, who travelled there with Mr Mandela. Mr Mandela made sketches with rough lines, which were then overlaid with areas of colour. The resulting limited edition lithographs were individually signed in pencil.

It may come as a surprise that Mr Mandela took up printmaking in his mid-80s. However, Ms Hunter says that the retired statesman once told her that “he would much prefer to be an artist, rather than a book writer.”

Source: The Art Newspaper

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