Four Spanish ladies wearing the Mantilla signed and dated 'Irma Stern / 1952' (lower left) oil on canvas 64 x 55.5cm (25 3/16 x 21 7/8in).
PROVENANCE The collection of R. Brett Kebble
During the 1950s and up until her death in 1966, Irma Stern had become an established and prominent figure amongst the art public. Her exhibitions after the excursions to the Congo (again in 1955), Madeira (1950), Spain (1960) and France (1963) occurred with astonishing frequency and regularity. By the end of the 1950s an annual exhibition was virtually a statutory feature in Cape Town's art life.
Inspired by her numerous trips to Europe, by the early fifties Stern directed her focus to Europe in her continued search for the exotic. Stern's earlier rich impasto technique, with its virtually three dimensional slabs of colour on coarse canvas, gave way from the fifties onwards to a different approach. She began to favour lighter, finer canvas which often she allowed to show through, both as background and highlight. Her tonally lightened palette and less dense application of paint (another modification in her work) are seen in Four Spanish ladies wearing the Mantilla. Her brushstrokes are more gestural, more calligraphic, with a quick scrawl establishing the line of profile of each of the women. Despite the slight variations in their faces, the women are portrayed as virtual replicas of each other.
Although Stern rejected abstract art throughout her life, in the 1950s her work shows evidence of increasing distortions and stylisations which often assume mainly decorative functions. Her subtle infusion of the abstract technique is seen in the formal rhythms created by the lighter tones of the faces against the dark background.
BIBLIOGRAPHY M. Arnold, Irma Stern: A Feast for the Eye, (Stellenbosch, 1995), p.76 N. Dubow, Irma Stern, (Cape Town, 1974), pp.20, 23