Portrait of a young Mpondo signed and dated 'Irma Stern / 1935' (lower right) oil on canvas 58.5 x 47.5cm (23 1/16 x 18 11/16in).
PROVENANCE Collection of Caroline ('Ina'), Lady Oppenheimer, Johannesburg, as of 1946 Her sister Diana, Lady Balfour of Inchrye Gifted by the above to the University of Oxford
LITERATURE Morris J. Cohen, 'Irma Stern', in The Studio, Volume 131, March 1946, titled Zulu Woman, illustrated b&w p.85
When Irma Stern wasn't travelling to far-flung locations like Europe, Zanzibar or the Congo, she explored her own South Africa, a country never short on beautiful models for her work. "As a woman who did not conform to the stereotypical expectations of her time, Stern was strongly attracted to people who permeated physical beauty and lack of inhibition. Her fascination with the customs and dress of the people she depicted imbued her artistic intentions."
Stern's abiding visual and anthropological interests in traditional dress as both an expression of culture and a vivid orchestration of different colours and textures are amply demonstrated in Portrait of a young Mpondo. Close attention has been paid to the colourful beadwork that adorns the sitter's neck, as well as the golden-yellow earring, set against the mauves and purples of the blanket.
The current lot is characterised by precocious and rich brushwork, exuding sensuality and physicality. The somewhat unusual colour palette of ethereal blues and purples is more typical of one of Stern's still life paintings than her portraits, and testifies to her versatility as an expressionist and her unencumbered artistic vision of colour. "Stern's expressionism is rooted in distortion and exaggeration which is used to intensify and heighten emotional and spiritual effect. It goes far beyond the objective perceived world of realism and embraces the inner passions through the physicality of brush mark and the rich intensity of heightened colour."
Caroline Magdalen Harvey (c.1900-1971), daughter of Sir Robert Grenville Harvey, was married first in 1920 to Sir Michael Oppenheimer (1892-1933) and secondly to his uncle Sir Ernest Oppenheimer (1880-1957) in 1935 (following the death of his first wife Mary). Sir Michael was the son of Sir Ernest's brother Sir Bernard Oppenheimer (1866-1921). Her second husband, Sir Ernest, was the benefactor who enabled the establishment of Queen Elizabeth House at Oxford University, precursor of the Oxford Department of International Development.
Caroline's sister Diana Blanche Harvey (d. 1982) married Harold Harington Balfour (18971988) on 15 December 1921. In 1917 Balfour was awarded the Military Cross, and in 1918 a bar to the Military Cross, for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty while serving in the Royal Air Force during the First World War. He served in the Air ministry from 1938 and was Minister Resident in West Africa, 1944-45. He left the House of Commons in 1945 and was raised to the peerage as Baron Balfour of Inchrye, of Shefford in the County of Berkshire.
BIBLIOGRAPHY A. Lewis, Journeys to the Interior: Unseen works by Irma Stern 1929-1939 (Cape Town, 2006), p.28 A. Crump, 'Irma Stern: The Determined Search for the Exotic' in Irma Stern: Expressions of a Journey exhibition catalogue, (Johannesburg, 2003), p.26