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Lot 203
Irma Stern (South African, 1894-1966) 'Arab Priest'
Sold for £3,044,000 (US$ 4,970,783) inc. premium

Lot Details
Irma Stern (South African, 1894-1966)
'Arab Priest'
signed and dated 'Irma Stern / 1945' (upper right); inscribed with title, '450 GNS', artist's name and address (to stretcher verso); signed and inscribed 'Irma Stern / Cape Town' (twice, to frame and canvas verso)
oil on canvas
97 x 86cm (38 3/16 x 33 7/8in).
within original Zanzibar frame

Footnotes

  • PROVENANCE:
    Purchased from the artist by Frida Baumann
    Thence by direct descent to the current owner

    EXHIBITED:
    Paris, Galerie Des Beaux Arts, 1947
    Johannesburg, Standard Bank Gallery, Irma Stern: Expressions of a Journey, 25 September - 29 November 2003, illustrated p.70
    Cape Town, Irma Stern Museum, circa 1970-2010

    LITERATURE:
    I. Stern, Zanzibar, (Pretoria, 1948), illustrated frontispiece
    N. Dubow, Irma Stern, (Cape Town, 1974), illustrated p.49
    H. Smuts, At Home With Irma Stern, (Cape Town, 2007), illustrated p.10

    Irma Stern first visited Zanzibar in 1939, and returned for her second visit in 1945. The 1945 trip was carefully planned and it has been suggested that, for Stern, this second trip to the Spice Island was a deliberate attempt to cultivate something new within herself and her artwork. She noted in her letters that she was "conquering new ground for my work and development. I am painting dramatic pictures, compositions and faces." The works she produced in Zanzibar in 1945 mark the period of her greatest genius.

    Stern had developed a fascination with Arab culture via the Malay population of Cape Town, but it was in Zanzibar where she was able to further immerse herself in their culture – taking tea with the Sultana, shopping in the bazaars, attending a wedding, living in a house opposite a mosque. She was diligent in her observations, noting with delight in her 1948 publication Zanzibar many facets of the Muslim community of Zanzibar. "I am living in an old Arab house opposite the mosque called the Sultan's mosque. It is pale blue and cool looking, with long stone rest-banks on which the pious seem to spend their days and nights" (Stern, 41). Stern chose Arab Priest as the opening illustration for Zanzibar, attaching significance to it as one of the best works produced during her Zanzibar period. "The most distinguished Arab – 'the truly wise and religious father' – is dressed in pure white robe with a white turban around his white skull cap."

    Alive with expressive brushstrokes, Arab Priest is a splendid showcase of Stern's painterly prowess. She has captured not only the sitter, but also the cool sensation of the Zanzibar interior, heightened by shades of white. In the subject's robes she has demonstrated her uncanny mastery of colour, highlighting the edges and folds of the white fabric with deftly applied coloured shadows.

    Arab Priest is framed in one of Stern's beloved Zanzibar frames, crafted from sections of wooden Zanzibar doorways. Such doorways remain to this day one of the trademarks of the island. Their exquisite carvings of traditional themes of lotus flowers, rosettes, frankincense, date trees, and fish pay tribute to the island's rich culture and history.

    IMPORTANT NOTICE:
    This lot is in South Africa. Therefore it is not subject to VAT on either the hammer price or the buyer's premium. It will be available for viewing at the Everard Read gallery in Johannesburg. Payment for this lot may be made in Sterling in London or in South African Rand through our Johannesburg office using the published rate of exchange on the date of the auction and collection must be made through our Johannesburg office. Buyers who intend to export this lot from South Africa must apply to the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) for the relevant export permit. Please contact the department for further information.

Saleroom notices

  • IMPORTANT NOTICE: This lot is in South Africa. Therefore it is not subject to VAT on either the hammer price or the buyer's premium. It will be available for viewing at the Everard Read gallery in Johannesburg. Payment for this lot may be made in Sterling in London or in South African Rand through our Johannesburg office using the published rate of 11.3088 and collection must be made through our Johannesburg office. Buyers who intend to export this lot from South Africa must apply to the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) for the relevant export permit. Please contact the department for further information.
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