LITERATURE: A.C. Bouman, Painters of South Africa, (Cape Town, 1951), illustrated p.73, titled Nude
The 1930s have been classified as a decade of exhibition and expedition in Irma Stern's professional career. It was the decade in which her critical successes grew in number, with exhibitions throughout Europe as well as closer to home in Johannesburg and Cape Town. She began the decade in Europe, but finished it in Zanzibar, with extensive travels in South Africa and a journey to Dakar in between. With her divorce finalised in 1934, and the death of her father in 1935, it was the time in which she was granted the freedom in her personal life to wholeheartedly pursue painting with less distraction from the banalities of day-to-day life, which she famously despised.
Seemingly influenced by Gauguin's Tahitian works and Stern's own continuing themes of fertility and regeneration, Seated nude with oranges is a celebration of Stern's distinctive and compelling use of colour. It is a departure from the native portraits-in-landscapes that characterised her late 1920s work and instead exhibits a tightened focus on the body, the landscape in the background toned to blend with the figure rather than contrast it.
Professor A.C. Bouman, the well-known and respected art critic, singled out the present lot for particular praise, saying:
"Nude reminds one strongly of Gauguin, by the unity of human figures and landscape. The same slowly moving lines in arms and legs and back as in the trees and their foliage, as well as in the undulating hills. A pensive, perhaps a little tired mood, in harmony with Nature, from whom the woman easily obtains fruits for nourishment. This is a picture admirably balanced, self-contained within its frame, with no lines running away, no lack of mental rest. Here the artist shows fully her capabilities."
Stern painted a gouache in the same year titled Seated nude with a basket of fruit, 1934 (sold at Stephan Welz & Co., Johannesburg, 12 May 2003, lot 465), which is notable for its similar model, albeit in a different pose, and basket containing oranges, and may well have served as a preparatory study for the present lot. Other notable nudes, comparable in both pose and subject, include Seated Nude, 1930 (sold at Stephan Welz & Co., Johannesburg, 27 & 28 August 1990, lot 260) and Nude, 1947 (Sanlam collection).