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One of Stern's Most Compelling Portraits

  1 January 2013     Archived

Malay Girl is a superb painting, confirming Irma Sterns unparalleled stature as an artist.
The South African auction world has seen no comparable portrait since Strauss & Co sold Sterns Arab in June 2012 for R17 267 000. Painted in 1938, Malay Girl contains all the elements of her finest works.

This is one of Stern’s most compelling portraits, providing extraordinary insights into the curious life of a child. The girl looks directly at the viewer, engaging us in a way that is neither challenging nor retiring. She meets the viewer’s gaze on equal terms and we are made aware that, despite her tender age, all the nascent intellect and complex emotions of the individual are already present. Rather than infantilising the child, the artist has provided a portrait of a thoughtful human being.

Stern makes imaginative use of warm, appealing colours like tangerine, mulberry and butter yellow. Apparently simple yet highly sophisticated compositional devices such as the bold colour blocking and the hair ribbon focus attention on the emotional heart of the painting – her large, captivating eyes. The maroon and lilac tones repeated in her patterned blouse, lips and hair ribbon tie these key elements together, contrasting dramatically with the striped orange backdrop that skilfully highlights the surprising colour of her eyes and her warm skin tones.

Such acute perception, the ability to convey a deep understanding of human nature and her superb mastery of the formal elements of art are powerful reminders of why Irma Stern’s paintings are unique and highly sought-after.

Text y Emma Bedford, Senior Paintings Specialist

Lot 490
Irma Stern
Malay Girl
Signed and dated 1938
Oil on canvas
56 x 57,5 cm
R10 000 000 – 15 000 000

2013 Press Archive

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