Marion Arnold, in her book on Irma Stern, asserts: “If portraits are likenesses, it is arguable whether the [Young Swazi Woman] is best understood as a portrait of a woman or as a painting of a woman. Stern, viewing ‘the other’, never forgot her own identity as an artist and this is asserted in her painterly style that sometimes overwhelms the identity of the model she observes.”1
This work ably demonstrates Stern’s confidence with the often challenging medium of gouache. The very nature of the medium demands quick decision making and the surety of Irma’s hand in her middle period can be clearly seen. Irma’s colour confidence is seen in the palette of this work - the warmth of the orange cloth offsets the dark skin tones of the sitter, deep aubergine and shades of teal describe the planes of her face. The typically averted gaze of Stern’s subject further distances her need to engage with her subject and she is free to explore line, shape and colour – which ultimately result in this keenly observed portrait.
1 Arnold, Marion, Irma Stern: A Feast for the Eye, Fernwood Press, Cape Town, 1995, page 103.