Irma Stern (South African, 1894-1966) Zanzibar Street Scene
Lot 53
Irma Stern
(South African, 1894-1966)
Zanzibar Street Scene
Sold for £50,000 (US$ 67,473) inc. premium

Lot Details
Irma Stern (South African, 1894-1966)
Zanzibar Street Scene
signed and dated 'Irma Stern/ 1939' (lower left)
gouache
41 x 35cm (16 1/8 x 13 3/4in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Purchased by a private collector, Cape Town.
    By direct descent to current owner, 1994.


    This watercolour was executed during Stern's first visit to Zanzibar in 1939. The artist had been an inveterate traveler since adolescence. Her frequent journeys to the Continent came to an abrupt end with the outbreak of the Second World War. She was forced to satisfy her wanderlust within Africa, traveling first to Zanzibar and then to the Congo. The war years, 1939 to 1945, are widely considered Stern's finest period. The landscapes and peoples she encountered on her excursions appealed to her romantic fascination with the exotic, and stimulated a creative outburst.

    The sights, sounds and smells in Zanzibar made such an impression on Stern that she was moved to document her experiences in writing. The text, titled Zanzibar, was published in Pretoria in 1948. An extract demonstrates her sensual appreciation of the island. She described a street stall thus:

    "small vivid blue fish with yellow stripes, silvery kinds, red roman, enormous lobsters as made of turquoise matrix, phantastic (sic) huge turtles - all came out of the tropical sea. The stall had a daily surprise of strange kinds of fruit and vegetables. A pale yellow grapefruit called ballunga intrigued me. When I opened it the flesh was a lovely pink embedded in a heavy woollen white...there is a variety of bananas, small yellow, large green, as long as a man's forearm...gourds and pumpkins - thin green shaky looking marrows, minute limes..."

    This gouache depicts just such a market. Terracotta vessels are laid out on a table in the lower left corner. The vendor in the foreground wears a vibrant yellow robe. The bright colours and flowing brushstrokes communicate a similar sensuousness to the breathy excess of Stern's textual description. However, the street is relatively quiet, as the market winds down for the day.

    Bibliography
    N. Dubow, Irma Stern, (Cape Town, 1974), pp.18-19.
    I. Stern, Zanzibar, (Pretoria, 1948).
Activities
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  1. Eliza Sawyer
    Auction administration - South African Art
    Bonhams
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    101 New Bond Street
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    Work +44 20 7468 5881
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