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 421 060
Lot 36
  • Irma Stern; Seated Zanzibar Woman
  • Irma Stern; Seated Zanzibar Woman
  • Irma Stern; Seated Zanzibar Woman

Lot Estimate
ZAR 200 000 - 300 000
Selling Price
Incl. Buyer's Premium & VAT
ZAR 421 060

About this Item

South African 1894-1966
Seated Zanzibar Woman

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

gouache on paper on a raffia mount
38 by 27,5cm excluding frame; 54,5 by 42,5 by 2cm including frame


The decade of the 1940s is often defined as a period of wanderlust in the career of Irma Stern, with her trips to the Belgian Congo in 1942 and 1946 and Zanzibar in 1939 and 1945 resulting in some of the most desirable works in her artistic oeuvre.

On 14 June 1939, Irma Stern set sail aboard the Duvenage Castle for the island of Zanzibar on the Swahili Coast of East Africa, returning to Cape Town in mid-October. She would visit the island again in 1945, documenting her experiences by way of her published travel diary titled Zanzibar.1

In an interview with HT Lawless she describes her decision to travel, saying; ”This is how I went to Zanzibar …, tired of this infernal wind, I was walking down Adderley Street one morning in 1938, remembering the stories told by our old Arab cook … when I was a child (he) used to spend the time of day reminiscing about his island home”. Then, appearing to make fun at her own naiveté that disguised a more impulsive nature, she continues “… so I walked into a travel bureau and asked ‘Can I motor to Zanzibar?’”2

Stern’s interest in African travel had undoubtedly been sparked by her visits to the Senegalese capital of Dakar on the west coast, while en route to Europe in 1937 and 1938.For her extended four month stay on the east coast island of Zanzibar, a British protectorate since 1890, Stern would stay as a guest of the provincial commissioner, Captain John O’Brian before taking residence in a large house across from the bazaar.3

From there she would become intoxicated by the island, proceeding to paint its inhabitants with a keen observation and attention to detail that has come to define the Zanzibar portraits as the beginning of Stern’s high period.

Enthusiastically received by critics and the general public alike, the work that Stern produced during these visits has come to define her as a portraitist. A commentator in the Cape Times would call her first exhibition of paintings from Zanzibar in February of 1940 a “veritable triumph for the artist”. Whilst the review in Cape Argus the next day would go further saying “The vitality and the sense of colour which you will find has always been implicit in Irma Stern’s painting, but in the best work here there is an even greater sense of achievement”.4

1. Irma Stern (1948) Zanzibar, Pretoria: Van Schaik publishers.
2. HT Lawless (15 March 1946) In the Limelight: Irma Stern, Spotlight.
3. Ibid.
4. (Monday, 12 February 1940) Irma Stern’s Latest Exhibition; The Results of her Visit to Zanzibar, The Cape Argus, page 13.


The Irma Stern Trust Collection, accession number 818.

View all Irma Stern lots for sale in this auction

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