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“Irma Stern received her art training – and an extensive cultural education – while living with her family in Berlin between 1913 and 1920. Her early training was conventional and academic […] But in 1917 she turned to Max Pechstein, who expressed in his art both condemnation of European civilization and glorification of a primitive idyll. Pechstein illustrated these ideas in lithographs, as well as other media, using monochrome mainly for war scenes and violence in city streets, and colour for scenes of tropical paradise. Irma Stern, who later described Pechstein as a ‘generous and noble-minded artist [to whom] I owe more gratitude than anybody else’ followed him in both her bifurcated subject-matter and the use of two forms of lithography to express it.”1
In 1920, shortly before leaving Berlin for Cape Town, Stern issued two print portfolios: Visionen (Visions), published by the Berlin-based Hesperiden Verlag, and Dumela Morena: Bilder aus Africa von Irma Stern (Dumela Morena: Pictures Out of Africa by Irma Stern), published by reputable Berlin art dealer Wolfgang Gurlitt. The scraggly figural scenes in the twelve lithographs comprising Visionen present interpretations of the novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Stern discovered the Russian author’s work in her teens. She later wrote of the “pain and joy” she felt first
reading his work, and how “those hours of wonder and admiration formed themselves into a series of visions” contained in her print portfolio (Cape Argus, 19 June 1926).
Although there is no clear indication which of Dostoevsky’s works are illustrated in the individual scenes, works like Woman on Bridge and Four Prostitutes, for example, likely refer
to Crime and Punishment (1866), in which the novel’s protagonist, Raskolnikov, witnesses a woman’s attempt to drown herself and befriends a prostitute, Sonya. The romantic urgencies of European literature exerted a considerable influence on a young Stern.
1. Michael Godby (2021) Irma Stern Nudes, 1916-1965, Cape Town: Primavera Publishing, page 129.