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Pick of the crop

  9 December 2010     Archived

Lemon Pickers is one of the most exciting Irma Stern paintings to come to the market in recent years. Of exceptional quality, it is a very early work, painted in 1928, confirming Stern as a unique and pioneering artist amongst her peers.

Irma Stern Lemon Pickers

The strong influence of German Expressionist artists like Max Pechstein is evident both in exaggerated forms and dramatic colour contrasts employed to achieve intense emotional and spiritual effects.

The painting effectively describes Stern’s vision of an idyllic and unspoilt paradise. An oft-quoted remark by Stern – “I fled from burning Europe into a land of strong colours” – illuminates the impetus of a work such as this.
Her search for a fantastic and exotic alternative to conventional European culture was prefigured in the works of artists such as Paul Gauguin. The voluptuous girl in the foreground, arches her body curved in a sinuous pose as she reaches up to the fruit above her. She gazes down at a basket of lemons in the foreground that symbolises fecundity and suggests a world of plenty.

Stern’s figures are derived from her observation of women while visiting Swaziland in March 1926 and again in October and November 1927, shortly before this painting was executed. The maidens wear traditional cloths draped over one shoulder in typical Swazi fashion. Their hair is styled and straightened with a mixture of red ochre and fat.

Lemon Pickers
, with its rhythmic arrangements of lithe women at work, prefigures later paintings of harvesters of which the South African National Gallery has an impressive example.

Irma Stern
Lemon Pickers

signed and dated 1928
oil on canvas
100 by 95cm
R10 000 000 - 14 000 000

Auction in Cape Town, The Vineyard Hotel, Monday 7 March 2011