Irma Stern had a Magnolia tree in her garden at the Firs, according to Christopher Peter of the UCT Irma Stern Museum. There was also a Magnolia tree in the garden of her neighbours so it was a tree that she witnessed in bloom and whenever she desired to arrange them in a vase or paint them, there was no shortage of these magnificent flowers.
Magnolia, named after French botanist Pierre Magnol, is an ancient genus that pre-dates bees. To attract pollination by beetles, but avoid damage, the carpels of Magnolia flowers are extremely tough. The large, glossy leaves and huge, fragrant white blossoms make it ideal for sumptuous displays. It was clearly a favourite with Stern.
Painted in the late 1940s when Stern, by critical consensus, was at the height of her powers, this glorious painting is a superb example of Stern at her best. The substantial size of the painting gains even more impact from the scale of the flowers that appear to burst beyond the confines of the frame. Their creamy, fleshy petals are accentuated by Stern’s superb impasto applied expertly with a palette knife. The deep green leaves with their contrasting sculptural forms and the bowl of fruit with ripening figs heighten the sensuality of this painting, embodying Stern’s visceral response to flowers and fruit.
Mrs E Brahms
Rembrandt Art Centre, Johannesburg; Pretoria Art Museum, Pretoria, catalogue number 31; South African National Gallery, Cape Town, catalogue number 52, Homage to Irma Stern (1894-1966), 1968