’m hoping to get a sense of what’s so ‘outstanding’ about Irma Stern at an auction. Hobnobbing with the haut monde, mixing with aristocrats – isn’t it going to be a fool’s errand?
¿ auction anywhere, ever. I doubt it’s going to be enough, but I have to start somewhere.
As I arrive the auction kicks off. Behind the auctioneer is a small square painting. I see ¿ wearing a Basuto hat produced in 1943. I’m surprised none of the artists are introduced, nor is there any backstory to their works. to be honest, I wish I had a few hundred thousand lying around so I could afford them. Some lovely Hugo Naudés and Boonzaiers are snapped up by some lucky bloke.
Two Pierneefs and a Tretchikoff go for half a million and more than a million. The Stern is by far the most expensive artwork
!" # the hammer down at R5 115 600.
On my way out, I take a close look at the original Basuto hat in a glass case, and then
Wanderer’s Club into the cold Joburg night. As I thought, the auction wasn’t much help. I do have a secret weapon with me, a small paperback in my hand, Remembering Irma, by Mona Berman [Double Storey 2003].
On my way to Zululand the next morning, I begin thumbing through it while waiting
¿ $ ! curious about the Mangbetu – who, she heard, ‘only one generation back had been man-eaters.’ She was determined to make contact with them. After meeting them and being allowed to paint them, she described the people with great admiration:
‘It was strange to plunge right among so savage a tribe and yet only to be aware of a rare artistic taste which had for years been exciting and stimulating the art world of Europe. Here were the creators of
¿ " "of wood, of fetishes and masks, grotesque and beautiful revealing primitive ancestral worship and its world alive with spirits…’ As banana plantations unfold around
¿ % Berman used to be Mona Feldman, Freda Feldman’s daughter. Freda, the tannie in
Indian Woman, The Eternal Child.
OPPOSITE ABOVE: Two Arabs in a Teashop sold in 2011 for R21,1 million. OPPOSITE BELOW LEFT: Stern flirts with big eyes in 1926. BELOW RIGHT: Fairy-tale expressionism in Walled City, painted in 1957. THIS PAGE ABOVE LEFT: Stern refused to sell ‘I painted it in a sort of trance, simply following the inspiration of the moment. When I had finished it, I found it different from my other work’ - Cape June 1926. (All Images courtesy Irma Stern, A Feast for the Eye by Marion Arnold, Fernwood Press) ABOVE RIGHT: described with effusiveness and admiration in Stern's book Congo. (Image courtesy Remembering Irma by Mona Berman, Double Storey)