Mandela portrait breaks record

mandelaicon-article A signed portrait of Nelson Mandela, photographed by Adrian Steirn who created the 21 Icons series, was sold for a record $200 000.
(Image: Adrian Steirn )

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Melissa Jane Cook

An image depicting Nelson Mandela’s face reflected in a mirror has been bought by a private art collector in New York City.

The signed portrait was photographed by Adrian Steirn, who created the 21 Icons series. It sold for a record $200 000 – just over R2 million – the highest amount ever received for a South African photograph. “I wanted Madiba to hold a mirror so that we could see a man reflecting on his life. As he reflects on his life, we reflect on his legacy and our future,” Steirn said, using Mandela’s clan name.

It was the first in the series of portraits of iconic South Africans, a three-year project. The subjects are the men and women who have helped shape the nation on its journey from oppression to democracy. Eykyn Maclean, the New York and London art gallery, facilitated the sale of the Mandela portrait.

Specialising in Impressionist and 20th century European and American Art, gallery co-owner Christopher Eykyn said that the photograph was a rare and valuable find for the gallery. “Adrian Steirn’s medium is photography, his tool a camera, but thanks to his skill as an artist in the centuries-old tradition of portraiture, Steirn preserves for posterity a visual manifestation of the innermost character of his subjects – as exemplified in his spellbinding portrait of Nelson Mandela.”

The remaining portraits of these world-famous activists and politicians will be auctioned off in March 2014. The proceeds will be donated to the charity of each subject’s choice. They include former president FW de Klerk; Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu; anti-apartheid activist Sophia Williams-De Bruyn; Nobel winning novelist Nadine Gordimer; environmental and human rights activist Kumi Naidoo; artists William Kentridge and Helen Sebidi; musicians Johnny Clegg and Yvonne Chaka Chaka; and sports champions Gary Player and Evelina Tshabalala.

“To document this group of iconic individuals and, through their portraits, to benefit their chosen charities, was fundamental to our ambition for this project. It’s our way of giving back to South Africa,” said Steirn.

The anonymous buyer said about the portrait: “I am honoured to own what has already become an iconic image of one of the greatest statesmen the world has ever known. In a single frame the photographer has captured the essence of dignity, principle, conviction and courage in this great man from whose life’s work and dedication to a greater cause we all have much to learn, and by which I am inspired daily.”

The money for the photograph will be donated to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital, currently under construction in Johannesburg, and to the World Wildlife Fund. Mandela had many dreams of a children’s hospital and campaigned for funds for its construction long before he fell ill. The state-of-the-art hospital is scheduled to open late in 2014. It will be a 200-bed facility providing world-class paediatric care irrespective of social and economic status.

Steirn said: “I am delighted to support the Children’s Hospital in honour of Nelson Mandela, the inspiration for 21 Icons. To raise crucial funds for so many important South African charities is a fitting tribute to Madiba as well as the other icons.”

Born in Sydney, Australia, Steirn’s affinity for Africa began as a child during a family trip to the continent. He later returned a number of times before settling in South Africa in 2007. He trained at the San Francisco Academy of Fine Art.