Portrait of Vera Poppe playing the cello signed and dated 'Irma Stern 1943' (lower right) oil on canvas laid to board 101 x 83cm (39 3/4 x 32 11/16in).
PROVENANCE: Johannesburg, Sotheby's South Africa, 11 October 1972, lot 116, 'The Cellist' A private collection.
"Vera Poppe has a natural musical talent, a splendid schooling that can be seen in her technique; her tone is powerful, masculine and very beautiful; her renditions are full of expression and temperament."
Vera Poppe (1885-1968), born in Cape Town and of Russian descent, was a cellist celebrated throughout Europe and America and well known for her dazzling performances in Chicago, New York and London. Poppe's musical talent was evident from an early age. After graduating from university with honours she went on to win the South African University scholarship for music, allowing her to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Upon graduating from the Royal Academy, Poppe went on to play as soloist with distinguished orchestras such as the London Symphony Orchestra, the Queen's Hall orchestra and the Cardiff Orchestral Society.
During the war years, Poppe returned to Cape Town where a performance at the home of Ben and Cecilia Jaffe in Rosebank brought her to the attention of Irma Stern, an attendee at the concert. Dazzled by Poppe's performance, Stern was inspired to paint the cellist's portrait. The intensity depicted in the sitter's face, combined with the flowing golden folds of Poppe's dress, capture the extraordinary impact of the musician and the dynamism of her playing. This is reiterated in Poppe's posture. So engrossed is the musician in the music that she and her instrument seem to have merged into one; her head and body leaning forward, encompassing the cello.
The work was painted in 1943, whilst the artist was at the height of her career. Former Director of the Irma Stern Museum, Neville Dubow, wrote of this period in the artist's oeuvre that "Irma Stern's work achieved 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." (Dubow, 1974, p.20).