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Stern, Irma

Considered one of the most significant South African artists of the 20th century, Irma Stern is beloved internationally. Her striking scenes taken from African life, imbued with her unique Expressionist style and intense palettes, created a dynamic body of work that not only exemplified her keen eye for color and observation but also reflected upon her personal experiences on the African continent.

A native of the Transvaal, a now-defunct region of northeastern South Africa, Irma Stern developed her penchant for travel at a young age. Her father's internment during the South African War of 1899-1902 sent Stern and her family to Cape Town and soon after to Germany, where Stern would receive her earliest artistic training.

Her unique style came alive with her time spent with painter Max Pechstein, who introduced the young Stern to the Expressionist artists of the November Group. Picking up on the power of Expressionism, Stern held the first exhibition of her work in 1919 in Berlin, shortly before her family moved back to Cape Town. Her first years there were tumultuous both artistically and personally, suffering not only initial rejection as an artist in her home country but also enduring a troubled and short-lived marriage. She emerged from these trials nevertheless reinforced to pursue painting, dedicating her career to extensive travel to chronicle the alluring peoples and cultures of the African continent. Though she explored almost the entirety of Africa, her most inspiring locales, to which she returned multiple times during her career, were South Africa, the tiny island of Zanzibar, and the Congo region.

Credited with close to 100 solo exhibitions of her work during her lifetime, Irma Stern was honored posthumously with the opening of the Irma Stern Museum in 1971. Her works are coveted by museums and collectors alike, with examples of her work selling at all-time record prices. The most recent was the sale of Stern's painting, entitled Bahora Girl, which sold in October 2010 for close to $4 million. With the rarity of her works and their increasing values, this Portrait of Pierre Ryckmans is truly an exceptional find.


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