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 Irma Stern  (1894 - 1966)

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Lived/Active: South Africa/Europe      Known for: Portrait, figure, still life and genre painting, ceramics

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from Auction House Records.
"Arab Priest"
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Irma Stern was a major South African artist who achieved national and international recognition in her lifetime. She was born in Schweitzer-Renecke, a small town in the Transvaal, of German-Jewish parents. Her father was interned in a concentration camp by the British during the South African War because of his pro-Boer leanings. Irma and her younger brother, Rudi, were thus taken to Cape Town by their mother. After the war, the family returned to Germany and constant travel. This travel would influence Irma's work.

In 1913, Stern studied art in Germany at the Weimar Academy, in 1914 at the Levin-Funcke Studio and notably from 1917 with Max Pechstein, a founder of the Novembergruppe. Stern was associated with the German Expressionist painters of this period. She held her first exhibition in Berlin in 1919. In 1920 Stern returned to Cape Town with her family where she was first derided and dismissed as an artist before becoming an established artist by the 1940s.

In 1926 she married Dr Johannes Prinz her former tutor, who subsequently became professor of German at the University of Cape Town. They were divorced in 1934.

Irma Stern traveled extensively in Europe and explored Southern Africa, Zanzibar and the Congo region. These trips provided a wide range of subject matter for her paintings and gave her opportunities to acquire and assemble an eclectic collection of artifacts for her home. Stern was to travel extensively in her lifetime: in 1930 to Madeira, in 1937 and 1938 to Dakar, Senegal, 1939 Zanzibar, 1942 Congo, 1945 Zanzibar, 1946 Central Africa, 1952 Madeira, 1955 Congo, 1960 Spain and 1963 France. Stern traveled extensively in South Africa, for example in 1926 to Swaziland and Pondoland, in 1933 to Namaqualand, in 1936 generally, and in 1941 to the Eastern Cape. In 1931 she visited Madeira and Dakar, Senegal, in 1937 and 1938.

Irma Stern refused to either travel or exhibit in Germany during the period 1933 - 1945. Instead, she undertook several journeys into Africa; going to Zanzibar twice in 1939 and 1945 and then planned three trips to the Congo region in 1942, 1946 and 1955. These expeditions resulted in a wealth of artistic creativity and energy as well as the publication of two illustrated journals; Congo published in 1943 and Zanzibar in 1948.

Almost one-hundred solo exhibitions were held during her lifetime both in South Africa and Europe including Germany, France, Italy and England. Although accepted in Europe, her work was unappreciated at first in South Africa where critics derided her early exhibitions of the 1920s with reviews such as one titled "Art of Miss Irma Stern - Ugliness as a Cult".

The Irma Stern Museum was established in 1971, and is the house the artist lived in for almost four decades. She moved into The Firs in Rondebosch in 1927 and lived there until her death. Several of the rooms are furnished as she arranged them while upstairs there is a commercial gallery used by contemporary South African artists.

Source:
"Irma Stern", Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irma_Stern (Accessed 10/23/2013)


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Almost one-hundred solo exhibitions were held during her lifetime both in South Africa and Europe including Germany, France, Italy and England. Although accepted in Europe, her work was unappreciated at first in South Africa where critics derided her early exhibitions of the 1920s with reviews such as one titled "Art of Miss Irma Stern - Ugliness as a Cult".

Gradually Irma became acknowledged as an established artist, and from the 1940s achieved success locally.  Her method of working in her studio demanded intense concentration. She often put up a sign saying "Do not disturb" and proceeded to paint while chain smoking and drinking strong black coffee. She generally framed her own work, packed exhibitions and arranged sales herself. Apparently, when working on a portrait she would observe the model very closely, step back and view them through half closed eyes and aim to complete the painting in one sitting.

Irma described the process of art production as follows: "I work a long time at a picture in my head. . . I never touch the canvas after it is finished." Her style evolved over the years. A very versatile artist, she worked in a range of media including oils, water colour, gouache, charcoal as well as ceramics and sculpture.

Often the outline of a composition was delineated in blue. The use of thick paint sometimes applied with a palette knife creates a sense of emotional intensity expressed in the choice of subject matter, be it landscape, portrait or still life.

She created ceramics between 1949-1954, and they include large earthenware jars and jugs as well as vases decorated with female figures and unglazed plates embellished with faces.

Source:
Irma Stern Museum, Cape Town, South Africa

Biography from Bonhams:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Text from Bonhams Bond Street auction house entry, The Malay Bride, 10/02/2003 describes Stern as follows:

"Most of her works created during the 1940s are permeated by this meditative quality and this
period is considered to represent the peak of her mature expression. The Malay Bride is a distinguished representation of Stern's furious outburst of painting energy in the 1940s. At a time when Europe was at war, in this work amongst the others created during this period, the subjects are imbued with a refined serenity and appear very much in isolation. Stern's fascination with Islam developed from an introduction to the Cape Malay culture and this enchantment grew with her two trips to Zanzibar. She was attracted by the splendour of Muslim women in their finery and adornment.

In this image, Stern utilizes tonal contrasts of blues and turquoise, saturating the image with a serenity and softness, drawing attention to the golden hues in the bride's medora or headdress. The application of thinner paint and sketchy brushwork as well as a palette mellowed into glowing golden tones, enables a sense of harmony to permeate the scene and renders the sitter in a poised and contemplative state.

As advocated by Esmé Berman, Stern grew less concerned with portraying voluptuous volumes and devoted her attention to 'rhythmical contours accompanying a change in her method: her previously lavish paint became much thinner and her brushwork grew progressively more sketchy''. The bride is portrayed as perfectly regal with no suggestions of a slave ancestry of the Dutch East Indies. While the detail in her bodice is not overly elaborate, adhering to religious dictates, it covers the bride to her throat. Like many of Stern's sitters, she has no name, restricting her frame of reference to the pictorial; postulations about the sitter are drawn from her face and clothes. Poised, neutral and ceremoniously formal, Stern renders a beautiful and dignified bride.

The young bride is dressed beyond her years and bears no indications of prenuptial nerves. She is seated close to the frame; it's as if Stern is providing an elevated and embracing close-up image of a culture deemed inferior by the white minority. The physicality of the brushwork and rich intensity of the gentle colours reach far beyond the perceived world of realism and embraces the inner sensual and feminine qualities of the sitter.

The Malay Bride is enclosed in an original Zanzibar frame. These frames are rich with superb ornamentation and reflect the fusion of African and Indian visual culture. Stern makes use of this sumptuous device to present her work without detracting from the image in the composition.

Bibliography
Esme Berman, Painting in South Africa, (Pretoria, 1993), pp.74, 80
A. Crump, The Determined Search for the Exotic, (Johannesburg, 2003), pp.25, 29


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