Irma Stern predominantly portrayed local people on her visits to Zanzibar in 1939 and 1945. Her portraits of Arab priests and youths, Zanzibar women, sheiks and sultans are well-known. Lesser known are her charcoal sketches of the Beechams, the family with whom she stayed while on the island. Writing on 22 October 1939 after her first visit to Zanzibar to Richard and Freda Feldman, close friends of hers in Johannesburg, she referred to the Beechams when she wrote: ‘Had the most fantastic time in Zanzibar - a heap of new friends – partly white – partly brown. A life so full of interest and fun – I am sorry I am back’,1 and again, on her arrival in Zanzibar on 8 September 1945: ‘The evenings I spend either alone or in most elaborate dinner parties all in long evening dress – which the people love throwing. I have quite a nice circle of people around me – but I do not really need them – as my work eats me up entirely.’2 The present lot depicts the family in prosaic, if not preoccupied terms: playing board games, readings, conversing, and so on. The sketches are also unique in the sense that some of them contain such titles as The Beechams of Zanzibar in Stern’s own handwriting.
1 Mona Berman (2003). Remembering Irma: Irma Stern: A Memoir
with Letters. Double Storey, page 82.
2 Ibid., page 92.