A number of artists had before her, but Stern’s work fetches the highest sums among them. Stern chose Arab Priest as the opening illustration for her famed Zanzibar travel journal, “attaching significance to it as one of the best works produced” during that period, writes Bonhams.
Stern painted a number of portraits, but the ones created between 1939 and 1945 and termed “Arab” are considered of highest value. “She also visited Senegal in West Africa in 1938 and also painted Arab sitters there,” adds Proud. Two Arabs sold for R21.1-million at an auction held by Strauss & Co in 2011. In March 2019, the portrait Arab, a previously unrecorded portrait of an Omani nobleman from the court of the Sultanate of Zanzibar, still in its original carved wooden frame, was sold by Strauss & Co for R20-million.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
Sahra was given a mandate by the National Heritage Resources Act of 1999 to protect, monitor, and manage the country’s heritage resources. Those resources, which are of cultural significance or other special value for the present community and for future generations, must be considered part of the “national estate” and fall within Sahra’s sphere of operations.
Government Notice No. 1512 of 6 December 2002 describes the types of objects that are protected and may not be exported without a permit from Sahra. Upon receipt of a permit application, Sahra, aided by relevant scholars in the field, applies criteria stipulated in the act to determine the significance of the object and whether a permit may be issued or not. Artworks of more than 50 years old are protected, and since Stern’s works fall into that category, an application for an export permit was made.
The Act means that though South African artworks may be sold to anyone, objects that are deemed an important part of the country’s “national estate” cannot leave the country permanently. This has drawn some malcontent from art purveyors, and even artists, who argued that the Act is anti-capitalist — but were reluctant to be quoted as saying so. Walker says: “Most countries have regulations in place to protect their national artistic patrimony.