Experience the work of Irma Stern at Iziko

Irma Stern's Congo Natives

Irma Stern’s Congo Natives

The Irma Stern exhibition, Brushing Up on Stern, comes to a close at the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town on Sunday, November 1.

Irma Stern is considered as one of South Africa’s most important artists, who achieved both local and international acclaim during her lifetime. Today, nearly 50 years after her death, her work continues to be admired by critics and sought after by art collectors around the world.

Brushing Up on Stern explores the extraordinary rise in popularity of this South African painter who was active during the first half of the 20th century. Irma Stern’s evolving success is illustrated by a superb selection of well-known artworks from the Iziko Permanent Collection and a number of private collections.

The exhibition is comprised of 22 oil paintings, numerous gouaches and drawings on paper, as well as the proofs of her first German publication. Props that Stern employed in her works, such as African carvings, fabrics, fashion and ceramics are also on display.

In addition, reference is made to Stern’s original ledgers, correspondence and old press clippings surrounding the controversial acquisition of her work by the South African National Gallery in the mid-1960s.

Irma Stern is cited with introducing the highly conservative South African society to Modernism during the 1920s. Her style was highly controversial, given the isolation and conservatism of the South African art scene at the time; however Stern was able to shift the prevailing perceptions about art over the following four decades.

Today, Stern’s rise in popularity and growing international acclaim in the present century has fired a re-evaluation of her work. In light of this, Brushing Up on Stern explores new research on Stern and her position in an African context, including the Islamic/Arabic influences in her work, and the earlier antipathy towards her through visual and archival records.

The Iziko South African National Gallery is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm. Inquiries: http://www.iziko.org.za


Stern was born in Schweitzer-Renecke, a little town found in Transvaal, Gauteng, from German-Jewish parents. In 1913, Stern studied Art in Germany at the Weimar Academy, in 1914 at the Levin-Funcke Studio and notably from 1917 with Max Pechstein, a founder of the Novembergruppe.

She was associated with the German Expressionist painters of this period. Stern held her first exhibition in Berlin in 1919. After this Stern and her family returned to Cape Town – her earliest following started in Europe, while most of her work went unappreciated at first in South Africa. Stern only gained a South African following in the 1940s.

Stern travelled extensively in Europe, southern Africa and central Africa. These trips inspired many of Stern’s paintings and these expeditions resulted in a wealth of artistic creativity and energy as well as the publication of two illustrated journals Congo published in 1943; and Zanzibar in 1948.


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