Zanzibar Garden oil on canvas 71 x 71cm (27 15/16 x 27 15/16in). within original Zanzibar hardwood frame
PROVENANCE: The collection of Mrs Lily Cohen A private collection
Irma Stern first visited Zanzibar in 1939, and returned for her second visit in 1945. The 1945 trip was carefully planned and it has been suggested that, for Stern, this second trip to the Spice Island was a deliberate attempt to cultivate something new within herself and her artwork. She noted in her letters that she was "conquering new ground for my work and development. I am painting dramatic pictures, compositions and faces." The current lot is a vivid example of Mona Berman's assertion about the relationship between Stern's letters and paintings from Zanzibar: "Her verbal descriptions explode in vibrant colours on her canvases, depicting the richness of atmosphere and culture in which she... immersed herself".
The lush foliage of this Zanzibari garden seems almost to spill out beyond the edges of the picture plane, its rhythms picked up by the carved leaves of the original frame. The exuberant colours of the vegetation a rich orchestration of greens, yellows and reds are balanced with the more subdued peach and ochre tones of the surrounding architecture. Stern had a great love for natural forms and, in her landscape works, has been described as unusually responsive to the mood and feel of places. Here she captures a sensory portrait of an environment which she described in her Zanzibar diary as "heavy with heat".
The Zanzibar subject as well as the original frame made from the carved components of Zanzibar doors reassembled by the artist herself places the work amongst the most sought-after of Stern's paintings. It also complements and completes the piece, as Marion Arnold suggests, as "these decorative carvings, with their rhythmic repeat patterns, provide the sculptural foil to her organic pictorial designs".
BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Arnold, Irma Stern: A Feast for the Eye, (Vlaeberg, 1995), p.50 M. Berman, Remembering Irma, (Cape Town, 2003), p. 97; p.81 I. Stern, Zanzibar, (Pretoria, 1948), p.18