Irma Stern (South African, 1894-1966) The Visitation

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Lot 18*
Irma Stern
(South African, 1894-1966)
The Visitation

Sold for £ 52,500 (US$ 67,948) inc. premium
Irma Stern (South African, 1894-1966)
The Visitation
signed and dated 'Irma Stern 1954' (along upper margin)
oil on board
45 x 30cm (17 11/16 x 11 13/16in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Purchased by the current owners at the Wolpe Gallery in the mid 1960s.


    During the Second World War, Stern had been forced to suspend her visits to Europe. She made a trip to Paris in 1947, a year after the Peace Conference. Revisiting the city's cathedrals and museums inspired a new direction in her art. Exposed to an array of religious imagery spanning centuries, she was particularly struck by their handling in the works of Tintoretto, Van Gogh and Gauguin.

    Her gravitation to religious subjects during this period was partly a response to the increasing abstraction of much postwar art. Stern was critical of this development, viewing the abandonment of figuration as defeatist and nihilistic. In an interview for the Sunday Times, she commented that art should be "strength-giving and wholesome". In painting scenes from the Bible, Stern was to communicate a positive message, and satisfy her own desire for spiritual fulfillment.

    This need was also reflected in Stern's collecting habits. In the 1950s, she amassed a large collection of Christian objets d'art: depictions of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, angels, saints and apostles. Stern was a non-practicing Jew, and she claimed that she acquired these items for their aesthetic beauty rather than religious associations. However, she was not immune to their spiritual symbolism, often commenting on the objects' special aura.

    The Visitation depicts the visit of the Virgin Mary with her cousin Elizabeth as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. Both women are pregnant, Mary with Jesus, and Elizabeth with John the Baptist. Stern paints the cousins embracing, their eyes cast down towards their wombs. Their elevated status is communicated by the two golden halos surrounding their heads.

    Bibliography
    M. Berman, Remembering Irma: Irma Stern, a Memoir with Letters, (Cape Town, 2003), pp.136.
    M. Arnold, Irma Stern: A Feast for the Eye, (Cape Town, 1995), pp.21.
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