Malay Lady in Yellow signed and dated 'Irma Stern 1942' (upper left oil on canvas 68 x 68cm (26 3/4 x 26 3/4in).
PROVENANCE: Acquired from the artist by fellow artist Frank Spears (1906-1991) A private collection
A riot of yellow and ochre tones heightened by the mauve of the sitter's blouse, this painting reflects one of the South African subjects which most entranced Irma Stern: individuals of Cape Town's Cape Malay population. After her Congo journey of 1942, Stern returned to South Africa, searching for inspiration closer to home. As Marilyn Wyman points out in Irma Stern: Envisioning the 'Exotic', this is a key difference between Stern and European painters of the exotic, such as her mentor Max Pechstein. While others travelled away from home, Stern returned home. In Cape Town, Stern would often visit the Malay quarter nestled on the slopes of Signal Hill and was inspired by its vibrant cultural and religious life. On occasion, Stern would attend social events such as weddings in pursuit of fresh subjects.
In Malay Lady in Yellow, the headscarf the sitter wears is draped over her shoulder to rest on the table behind her arms, flowing between the background and foreground. Stern's works from the 1940s are amongst her most popular, and previous director of the Irma Stern Museum Neville Dubow has referred to this period as "a peak of excellence that could stand comparison with representational paintings anywhere else in the West... one could claim international stature for her work of the 1940s. Nationally...there was no one to touch her."
BIBLIOGRAPHY: N. Dubow, Irma Stern, (Cape Town, 1974), p. 20 M. Wyman, 'Envisioning the Exotic', Women's Art Journal, (Volume 20 Number 2, 2000), p. 20