Irma Stern: Time|Line

Live Virtual Auction, 8 June 2022

Irma Stern: Time|Line
About the Session
Irma Stern: Time | Line is a single-artist sale of 140 lots devoted to this illustrious artist. The lots on offer range from oil paintings, watercolours, drawings, etchings, ceramics and books and are presented chronologically, featuring works made in every decade from 1920 until the artist’s death in 1966.
The auction includes 124 artworks from the Irma Stern Trust Collection. Proceeds from the sale of these works will benefit the Irma Stern Trust Collection, housed in the much-loved Irma Stern Museum in Cape Town. Income derived from the sale will strengthen the Irma Stern Trust Collection for the future by preserving the core collection and making it accessible by developing the existing Irma Stern Trust website into an important research resource. 

Sold for

ZAR 250 360
Lot 33
  • Irma Stern; Mother and Child, Congo

Lot Estimate
ZAR 200 000 - 300 000
Selling Price
Incl. Buyer's Premium & VAT
ZAR 250 360

About this Item

South African 1894-1966
Mother and Child, Congo

signed and dated 1942; inscribed with the title and accession number on the reverse

gouache and pencil on paper
33,5 by 24cm excluding frame


Stern undertook three artist-research trips to Belgian Congo between 1942 and 1955. In 1942, shortly after the publication of Irma Stern and the Spirit of Africa, the artist’s first and only South African monograph published during her lifetime, Stern travelled by train from Cape Town with her car to Elizabethville (now Lubumbashi), in southern Congo, where she hired a local man, Pierre, as her chauffeur. Together they circumnavigated the country, travelling as far north as Stanleyville (now Kisangani), the farthest navigable point upstream on the Congo River. She also visited present-day Rwanda, attending numerous ceremonial events held by the region’s ruling elite, the Watusi (now referred to as Tutsi).

Where Zanzibar enabled Stern to realise her orientalist inclinations as a painter, her first Congo trip was, in certain respects, an attempt to reclaim the imaginative terrain of her earlier southern African journeys. Stern’s mental image of central Africa owed a great deal to colonial portrayals of this region, as is clear from the opening passage to her artists’ book, Congo (1943): “The Congo has always been for me the symbol of Africa, the very heart of Africa. The sound ‘Congo’ makes my blood dance with the thrill of exotic excitement: it sounds to me like distant native drums and a heavy tropical river flowing, its water gurgling in mystic depths.”

Published in a limited edition of three hundred, Congo was Stern’s first printed book under her own name. Similar to Zanzibar (1948), her follow up book, it showcases Stern’s keen appreciation for book design. Illustrated throughout with black-and-white photographs of her paintings and drawings, the clothbound book includes original raffia backing acquired in Congo. Like Zanzibar, it presents an accumulation of vignettes, some incisive, others uninspired. Her strength as a writer lies in anecdote. In a dense forest Stern encountered a naked
man. Her car broke down. At a market she saw beetles and huge caterpillars for sale but returned to her car laden with bark-cloth and fruit. Stern returned to work in Congo in 1946 and 1955. Women subjects engaged in activities of labour and nurture, themes influenced by art history, feature strongly in the colourist works from these latter two trips.


The Irma Stern Trust Collection, accession number 907.


Jutta Hülsewig-Johnen and Irene Below (1996) Irma Stern und der Expressionismus, Afrika und Europa – Zeichnungen bis 1945, Berlin: Kerber Verlag, illustrated in colour on page 153 as catalogue number 69.

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