Thousands attend Irma Stern’s auction in Cape Town

The art world was abuzz on Tuesday night when one of the largest collections of works of the great South African artist Irma Stern came under the hammer.

Strauss & Co. hosted the single-artist sale of 140 works, including pencils, pen and ink, watercolours and rare oil paintings of the master. More than 5 000 from around the globe joined in the online and in-person auction in Cape Town.

Great South African artist Irma Stern’s collections of works on auction: 

Irma Stern is viewed as the leading figure in South African art historically. The ‘Irma Stern Time Line’ auction, included works from the Irma Stern Trust Collection and other properties.

Spanning decades of her life as an artist, pieces from the 1920s through the 1960s came under the hammer.

Some were never before seen works from her sketchbooks, priced with the hope that new and young buyers would get into the market.

While she was South African, experts say her efforts to see the world makes her work engaging and ever more popular.

Senior Art Specialist Strauss & Co, Matthew Partridge says, “Her willingness to cross boundaries, to go into spaces where she wasn’t always welcome with her compassion and empathy that allowed her to understand and connect of her subjects.”

Two oil paintings, both selling for well above R5 million each, are the portraits of “Roza van Gelderen” and “Psychic: An Old Malay Woman”.

Stern often painted women, and, Partridge says, not for the male gaze, but rather it was pictured by a woman for women. She also painted subjects vastly different to her own world.

Partridge adds, “In between the war years, between 1939 and 1945 Irma Stern travelled to Zanzibar and the Congo, each twice, and there she came across people that were entirely different to her and from entirely different cultures that today are very much at odds and I think that this kind of relationship just echoes the levels of answers like this she was willing to go to try and understand and bring life to other cultures.”

While the world experiences financial crises, there is still a sustained appetite for quality works of art.

In the last 11 years, Strauss & Co has sold R600 million worth of works of Irma Stern, speaking to the high demand and esteem of the artist.

The auction was in aid of raising funds.

Chairperson: Strauss & Co Frank Kilbourn says, “It’s quite a substantial amount of money that we could raise in the process. The funds of which will go back towards the Trust and for the work that the Irma Stern Museum is doing and ensure the legacy of Irma Stern. We are very keen to see if we can hold an international exhibition of Irma Stern’s work and also produce a catalogue resume which sets out all the work she produced in her life and these sort of funds could go a long way in securing these dreams.”

Stern’s first South African exhibition was held in Cape Town in 1922.  A century later, and five decades after her death, Stern continues to enthral art lovers the world over.


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