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

Live Auction, 7 March 2011


Sold for

ZAR 10 583 000
Lot 246
  • Irma Stern; Still Life of Delphiniums

Lot Estimate
ZAR 10 000 000 - 12 000 000
Selling Price
Incl. Buyer's Premium & VAT
ZAR 10 583 000

About this Item

South African 1894-1966
Still Life of Delphiniums

signed and dated 1938

oil on canvas laid down on board
99 by 73,5cm excluding frame


In June 1995 two works by Irma Stern not only set a record price but also, for the first time, broke the R200 000 barrier for a 20th century South African painting.   Both Still Life of Delphiniums and Two Arabs sold for R209 000.   This record stood for just over five years.   Two Arabs is illustrated on the dust jacket of Marion Arnold's A Feast for the Eye.

Two paintings of Delphiniums on this auction allow for a comparison of Irma Stern’s handling of similar subjects in diverse media at different times. While the earlier gouache gives equal value to the comparable pastel tonalities of the flowers to achieve tranquil effects, the oil painting produced four years later emphasises the strong contrasts of complementary colours in a composition that is permeated with vitality and drama.

Here the orange flowerhead at its centre bursts forward in thick, impasto paints as if to extend beyond the confines of the canvas. The cool blues, violets and indigoes of the Pacific Giant Delphiniums that radiate from the warm centre, demonstrate the artist’s highly skilled manipulation of colours.
The flowers are gathered into a wicker basket that may have been one of Irma’s legendary picnic baskets, which were often carried with her to galleries and from which copious amounts of food were produced. Before it has been placed a bowl painted in the modulated tones that were favoured by Paul Cézanne. It is tilted to disclose its contents – citrus fruits painted in yellows and a vivid orange that electrifies the foreground. Beside the bowl stands the dark-blue glazed jug with white highlights that appears in several paintings.

While the red table is scattered with fallen florets indicating that Stern spent some time painting this still life to her satisfaction, a picnic atmosphere of delight and enjoyment prevails.

Throughout time, Delphiniums have enchanted young and old. A A Milne’s “The Dormouse and the Doctor” begins:
There once was a Dormouse who lived in a bed
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red)
And all the day long he’d a wonderful view
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue)


Marion Arnold, Irma Stern: A Feast for the Eye, Fernwood Press, 1995, page 137, illustrated in colour

Stephan Welz, Art at Auction in South Africa, Art Link, Johannesburg, 1996, page 105, illustrated in colour

Wilhelm van Rensburg and others, Irma Stern: Expressions of a Journey, Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg, 2003, page 174, illustrated in colour

View all Irma Stern lots for sale in this auction

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