Modern, Post-War and Contemporary Art, Decorative Arts, Jewellery and Fine Wine

Live Virtual Auction, 8 - 11 November 2020

Modern, Post-War and Contemporary Art Part II
  • Irma Stern; Night
  • Irma Stern; Night
  • Irma Stern; Night
  • Irma Stern; Night
  • Irma Stern; Night
  • Irma Stern; Night

Lot Estimate
ZAR 1 500 000 - 2 000 000
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About this Item

South African 1894-1966

signed; inscribed with the artist's name and the title on the reverse

oil on canvas
86 by 54cm excluding frame; 102 by 70 by 4cm including frame


The veil, the headscarf, the turban all play an important part in Irma Stern’s portraiture. Not only do they intimate social standing, cultural identity, and religious affiliation, but also femininity and domestic intimacy. In the present lot, which seems stylistically to date from the 1950s, the sitter is surrounded by a bright white halo-like headscarf, and appears to be asleep or in deep contemplation, her chin resting meditatively on her hand. The mood is sustained by muted colours and the dark tones of the figures in the nightly background, the red of her skirt only, lighting up the darkness around her. This portrait is reminiscent of another work, Meditation, that featured in the South African section of the Venice Biennale in 1958 and shares some formal affinities with Woman with Hand to Head (1952) in the UCT Irma Stern, Museum, Cape Town. Is the woman’s costume in this work some sort of European traditional dress or could she perhaps be a member of a religious order, perhaps she’s a nun? In the 1950s, Stern painted work inspired by what might be termed Mediterranean Catholicism. She was in Italy often in that decade, showing at four Venice Biennales, and she also spent summers in Alicante in Spain, into the early 1960s, on long painting sojourns prompted by her increasingly poor health.


Sean O'Toole (ed) (2006) Between Foothold and Flight, catalogue number 3, Johannesburg: Graham's Fine Art Gallery, and illustrated in colour on page 43 with the title Flight.

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