Irma Stern (South African, 1894-1966) Harvesters

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Lot 83
Irma Stern
(South African, 1894-1966)
Harvesters

Sold for £ 81,250 (US$ 105,534) inc. premium
Irma Stern (South African, 1894-1966)
Harvesters
signed and dated 'Irma Stern/ 1955' (lower right)
oil on canvas
68.5 x 61cm (26 15/16 x 24in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Private collection.


    During the Second World War, Stern had been forced to confine her travels to the African continent. Between 1939 and 1945, she made multiple trips to Zanzibar and the Congo. Visiting new environments and observing different communities had always been a source of artistic inspiration. Perhaps unsurprisingly her enthusiasm for depicting African subjects had waned by the 1950s. In an interview in 1953, she even expressed an element of discomfort with her earlier tramping grounds:

    "On my painting tour in the Transkei a few months ago I found things had changed since my earlier visits - perhaps the change lay in the natives, perhaps in myself. But the old ease of communication had gone" (Cape Argus, 1953).

    After the war came to an end, Stern was free to expand her travels and relieve her feelings of disillusionment and suffocation. In 1950, she embarked on a tour of Europe that included visits to Madeira, Lisbon, Madrid, Monaco, Venice, Geneva, Paris and London.

    The letters that she wrote to her friends Richard and Freda Feldman in this period clearly communicate that she viewed her house in South Africa as a "jail", from which she liberated by her European excursions (letter to Richard Feldman, dated September 1957).

    In 1955, Stern travelled to Turkey. It is likely that the current lot was inspired by her experience of watching Turkish women harvesting bulrushes and reeds. The harvesters's headscarves and distinctive technique of gathering the rushes are consistent with photographs taken in the 1950s.

    During the last decade of her life, the artist returned to the subject of the harvest time and again, depicting field workers, grape harvesters, fishermen, pimento gathers and tomato pickers. It is interesting that as her life was nearing its end, Stern found images of fecundity and fertility increasingly appealing. The significance of these harvesters is not their individual identity, but the dynamism of their collective endeavour. Marion Arnold has aptly described these late works thus:

    "(Stern) creates a design of robust, rhythmic figures, devoid of personal identity and rendered as components of nature, not as paid labourers."

    Bibliography
    M. Arnold, Irma Stern: A Feast for the Eye, (Cape Town, 1995), p.41.
    A. Lewis, 'The life of Irma Stern', in Brushing up on Stern: featuring works from the permanent collection of the Iziko South African National Gallery, (Cape Town, 2015), pp.38-41.
    M. Berman, Remembering Irma. Irma Stern: a memoir with letters, (Cape Town, 2003), pp.138-140.
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