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Lot 14
Irma Stern (South African, 1894-1966) The Malay Bride within original Zanzibar frame
Sold for £1,202,500 (US$ 2,011,647) inc. premium
Auction Details
Lot Details
Irma Stern (South African, 1894-1966)
The Malay Bride
signed and indistinctly dated 'Irma Stern 194[2]' (upper right)
oil on canvas
69 x 51cm (27 3/16 x 20 1/16in).
within original Zanzibar frame


    Acquired directly from the artist by Mr Boris Gersman (1900-1953), Johannesburg
    Gifted by his wife, Zillah Gersman, to their daughter on the occasion of her wedding in 1959
    Their private collection, UK, 1960-1999, Cape Town 1999-2005
    A private collection, South Africa, 2005 to present

    The South African art critic and historian, Esmé Berman, described Stern "not just as a ranking artist in this country – she is practically a national institution". After her second visit to Zanzibar in 1945, somnolent golden glows began to permeate her compositions giving way to her customary, abrupt contrasts of harsher colour. Awakened to a richness of existence independent of external beauty, an atmosphere of spiritual repose profoundly influenced her subsequent expression from 1940s onwards. Most of her works created during the 1940s are permeated by this meditative quality and this period is considered to represent the peak of her mature expression.

    The Malay Bride is a distinguished representation of Stern's furious outburst of painting energy in the 1940s. At a time when Europe was at war, in this work amongst the others created during this period, the subjects are imbued with a refined serenity and appear very much in isolation. Stern's fascination with Islam developed from an introduction to the Cape Malay culture and this enchantment grew with her two trips to Zanzibar. She was attracted by the splendour of Muslim women in their finery and adornment.

    In this image, Stern utilises tonal contrasts of blues and turquoise, saturating the image with a serenity and softness, drawing attention to the golden hues in the bride's medora or headdress. The application of thinner paint and sketchy brushwork as well as a palette mellowed into glowing golden tones, enables a sense of harmony to permeate the scene and renders the sitter in a poised and contemplative state. As advocated by Esmé Berman, Stern grew less concerned with portraying voluptuous volumes and devoted her attention to ''rhythmical contours accompanying a change in her method: her previously lavish paint became much thinner and her brushwork grew progressively more sketchy''.

    The bride is portrayed as perfectly regal with no suggestions of a slave ancestry of the Dutch East Indies. While the detail in her bodice is not overly elaborate, adhering to religious dictates, it covers the bride to her throat. Like many of Stern's sitters, she has no name, restricting her frame of reference to the pictorial; postulations about the sitter are drawn from her face and clothes. Poised, neutral and ceremoniously formal, Stern renders a beautiful and dignified bride. The young bride is dressed beyond her years and bears no indications of prenuptial nerves. She is seated close to the frame; it's as if Stern is providing an elevated and embracing close-up image of a culture deemed inferior by the white minority.

    The physicality of the brushwork and rich intensity of the gentle colours reach far beyond the perceived world of realism and embraces the inner sensual and feminine qualities of the sitter. The Malay Bride is enclosed in an original Zanzibar frame. These frames are rich with superb ornamentation and reflect the fusion of African and Indian visual culture. Stern makes use of this sumptuous device to present her work without detracting from the image in the composition.

    E. Berman, Painting in South Africa, (Pretoria, 1993), pp.74, 80
    A. Crump, The Determined Search for the Exotic, (Johannesburg, 2003), pp.25, 29

    This lot is in South Africa. Therefore it is not subject to VAT on either the hammer price or the buyer's premium. It will be available for viewing at the Everard Read gallery in Johannesburg. Payment for this lot may be made in Pounds Sterling in London or in South African Rand through our Johannesburg office using the rate of exchange announced at the auction and collection must be made through our Johannesburg office. Please contact the department for further information.
Lot symbols
  1. Hannah O'Leary
    Specialist - South African Art
    101 New Bond Street
    London, W1S 1SR
    United Kingdom
    Work +44 207 468 8213
    FaxFax: +44 20 7468 5839
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