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Lot 33
Irma Stern (South African, 1894-1966) 'Black Lilies'
Lot Details
Irma Stern (South African, 1894-1966)
'Black Lilies'
signed and dated 'Irma Stern / 1941' (lower left); further signed, titled and inscribed 'Irma Stern Black Lilies, 75G / The Firs Chapel Road, Rosebank Cape Town' (verso)
oil on canvas
69 x 64cm (27 3/16 x 25 3/16in).


  • Beautiful and elegant, black calla lilies are dramatic and rare blossoms, thought to have originated in Africa. For Irma Stern, whose sumptuous still lifes are amongst her greatest masterpieces, black lilies would have been a unique and fresh addition to the genre. Stern famously enjoyed spending time in her garden, and arranging unique compositions of flowers and fruit, along with objects and textiles from her treasured collection: "Working in the studio with the flowerpiece, as opposed to the landscape, Stern – as artist – controls nature by selecting, structuring and arranging blooms informally to display their colour and personality."

    The present work offers a colour scheme quite distinct from the warm palette of reds and yellows which dominate most of her works of this genre. The delicacy of 'Black Lilies' lies very much with the dramatic silhouette of the flowers against the pale blue background. The dark buds demonstrate her confident brushstrokes and sure draughtsmanship. Most importantly, Stern has noticed that black lilies are not actually black but rather deep maroon: she has captured the fact by contrasting them with a truly black vase (one which appears in several other still lifes), utilising the effects of light and shadow to demonstrate her profound understanding of the nuances of colour.

    M. Arnold, Irma Stern: A Feast for the Eye, (Vlaeberg, 1995), p.102

Saleroom notices

  • IMPORTANT NOTICE: The South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) has declared this lot a work of national importance and has declined a permit for its export. Therefore it is not subject to VAT on either the hammer price or the buyer's premium. The lot 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. Collection must be made through our Johannesburg office. Please contact the department for further information.
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