Mangbetu woman carrying fruit signed and dated 'Irma Stern / 1942' (upper right) oil on canvas 69 x 69cm (27 3/16 x 27 3/16in).
PROVENANCE: Acquired directly from the artist by the current owner, circa 1944-45
Irma Stern's 1942 visit to the Congo proved to be immensely satisfying for the multitude of inspirations it provided to the artist. Mangbetu woman carrying fruit exemplifies the brighter colours and more sensuous figures that characterised Stern's work from the period. Stern had long been fascinated with the native people of Africa, painting them from the early days of her career. Her journey to the Congo provided both adventure and fresh subjects and surroundings, inspiring Stern to paint some of the greatest canvases of her career.
Neville Dubow comments that "In the Congo [Irma Stern] found a society whose primary needs were still met to a degree by the work of the artist/craftsman; and she responded to this first-hand encounter with creative tribal functionalism with a fundamental creativity of her own. She produced a body of painting of extraordinary vigour and decorative control." Mangbetu woman carrying fruit exemplifies Stern at the height of her powers, demonstrating her mastery of strong colour and lively brushwork. Stern has brilliantly contrasted the green bananas with red flowers and yellow costume, all against a pale background which lushly compliments the dark skin of the sitter.
The sitter in the present work is probably Mangbetu, and bears similarities to Mangbetu girl and Mangbetu Chief's daughter, painted by Stern in the same year.
In December 1942 Stern exhibited her Congo works at the Gainsborough Galleries in Johannesburg. In a review of the exhibition, Herman Charles Bosman wrote: "I am personally grateful to Irma Stern for having thrust before the world, in so bold and uncompromising a fashion, the only things in life that matter. She has created a wide and unsentimental world, brilliant with the raw colours of feeling, where the spirit is a woven mantle, and the earth is pageantry, and hope is a cereal, and things change before the eye with nearness."
BIBLIOGRAPHY: N. Dubow, Irma Stern, (Cape Town, 1974), p. 19 H. Smuts, At Home With Irma Stern, (Cape Town, 2007), p. 14