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Through The Eyes Of An Artist - Romantic Accounts Of Africa

  30 October 2013     Archived

A keen traveller, Irma Stern was also fortunate to have the financial means with which to do so. Her trips also provided her with an abundance of new sights from which she could draw inspiration for her insatiable artistic output.

Stern travelled to the Congo in 1942. Buoyed by romanticised accounts of the Rwandan nobility, Stern was consumed both with curiosity and the desire to paint them. Well-connected with both the Belgian administration and the South African attaché, she found an opportunity to see the Royal party at the Fête Nationale held in Kigali, a two day-long celebration that included royal processions and public displays of drumming, singing and dancing.

“I painted the king and queen and the queen mother of the Watussi. Their movements were dignified beauty, their features – long necked, long faced – were exquisite, a beautiful and timeless majesty. Here I had found as I had thought, the quintessential of beauty,” enthused Irma Stern in letters from this trip.

Watussi King due to be auctioned on 11 November at Strauss & Co’s Johannesburg auction was most likely completed during the festival. The portrait captures the subject wearing the distinctive beaded and plumed crowns reserved exclusively for senior royalty. Stern’s disregard for political and ethnographic sensitivities is often underpinned by the generic titles she gave her works. She seldom identified African subjects by name and this has led to many disputed identifications.

From photographs taken during the Fête Nationale the sitter has recently been identified as Mwami Rudahigawa Mutara III, the king of Rwanda. Mwami Rudahigawa died in 1959. The circumstances surrounding his death are shrouded in mystery with many accounts alluding to his having been poisoned by the then Belgian administration. The Rwandan monarchy lasted only two more years, coming to an end in 1961.

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Important South African and International Art

Monday 11 November 2013
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