Johannesburg – The Qatar museum authority knowingly bought Irma
Stern’s painting entitled Arabian Priest despite the fact that both the museum
and the British auctioneer were aware that the South African Resource Heritage
Agency (Sahra) had not yet granted a permanent export permit.
Bonhams sold the painting to Qatar in London in March for a record price of R39m.
According to Regina Isaacs of Sahra, the artwork was on loan
to Bonhams after the auction house was granted a temporary export permit.
"The artwork was lent to Bonhams in December and then returned
to South Africa a month later where it has been ever since.
"Bonhams (...) Sahra however, only realised the painting had been
sold when we received the application for the permanent export permit from the
Qatar museum authority."
It was however stipulated in Bonhams' catalogue that the buyer
will have to obtain an export permit from Sahra first.
According to the law on National Heritage, artworks of national
interest older than 50 years are not allowed to leave the country unless a
permit from Sahra is obtained.
Sahra has denied the permanent export permit. The Qatar museum
authority has since hired attorney Pieter Fouché of Van Huyssteens commercial
attorneys to appeal Sahra's decision.
"This is the first appeal against a decision taken by Sahra,"
"This is also the first time, as far as Sahra knows, that a
local artwork had been sold to an international museum."
Concern over South Africa's art treasures leaving the country illegally has grown
rapidly in the last few years.
Director of the Rupert museum in Stellenbosch, Deon Herselman,
said that the effort to control the movement of artworks is improving.
"Although British auction houses serve as a good export point
and provide a good platform for our artists, it is important that all works are
approved by Sahra first."