Important South African Paintings, Furniture, Silver, Ceramics and Glass

Live Auction, 7 March 2011

  • Irma Stern; The Lemon Pickers
  • Irma Stern; The Lemon Pickers
  • Irma Stern; The Lemon Pickers
  • Irma Stern; The Lemon Pickers
  • Irma Stern; The Lemon Pickers
  • Irma Stern; The Lemon Pickers

Lot Estimate
ZAR 10 000 000 - 14 000 000

About this Item

South African 1894-1966
The Lemon Pickers

signed and dated 1928

oil on canvas
100 by 95cm excluding frame


Lemon Pickers is one of the most exciting Irma Stern paintings to come to the market in recent years. Not only is it of exceptional quality but it is a very early work painted in 1928 that confirms Stern as a unique and pioneering artist amongst her peers. Her inclusion in 1927 in the Junge Kunst series of monographs along with Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, Kandinsky, Matisse, Picasso, Pechstein, Schmidt-Rotluff and Grosz is a clear indication of the high regard in which Stern was held by her European contemporaries.

The strong influence of German Expressionist artists like Max Pechstein is evident both in the exaggerated forms and in the dramatic colour contrasts employed to achieve intense emotional and spiritual effects.

The painting effectively describes Stern’s vision of an idyllic and unspoilt paradise. An oft-quoted remark by her – “I fled from burning Europe into a land of strong colours” – illuminates her intentions. Like Paul Gauguin she sought a fantastic and exotic alternative to conventional European culture. The voluptuous young woman in the foreground arches her body in a sinuous curve as she reaches for the fruit above her. Her downward gaze at a basket of lemons in the foreground focuses attention on these symbols of fecundity and suggests a world of plenty.

The young women wear cloths tied around their hips and some have brightly coloured or patterned wraps across one shoulder. Their hair is styled and straightened to emphasise the elegant shape of their heads. Stern visited Swaziland in March 1926 and again in October and November 1927, shortly before this painting was executed. It is likely that the Swazi women with their traditional cloths draped over one shoulder and their hair plastered with a mixture of red ochre and fat, made a great impression on her.

The fact that this young woman has white hair could indicate that she is in a liminal state of transition or just that the artist has chosen the lighter colour for pictorial purposes and to draw attention to her beautiful features.

Lemon Pickers is a key work in Stern’s oeuvre that fuses exotic African subject matter with dynamic European painting developments to forge a new expressively South African genre. With its rhythmic arrangements of lithe women at work, it prefigures later paintings of harvesters of which the Iziko South African National Gallery has an impressive example.

The painting has been in the same collection since 1971.


Die Kunskamer, 1971

View all Irma Stern lots for sale in this auction

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