I

South African Country Life - - Arts & Culture -

’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.

Ar­gus,

Wa­tussi Queen,

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)

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