Irma Stern’s painting was the top-selling item at the Bonhams South African Sale in London, held on the artist’s birthday.
A painting by Irma Stern, titled ‘The Malay Bride’ was auctioned for £1,202,500 in London at Bonhams’ South African sale on Wednesday 2 October, the artist’s birthday.
The painting was estimated to sell for between £1 million and £1.5 million. The top three pictures were all by Stern. The sale made a total of £3,218,428 for some 128 works of art, and three new world records were set.
The sale confirmed the strength of the market for South African art in London, with South African and international bidders competing furiously for the lots on offer.
Giles Peppiatt, Director of South African art at Bonhams said, â€œIt is not surprising that this picture attracted the amount of interest it did, even though it cannot be exported from South Africa. She is one of Stern’s great masterpieces and although, due to The South African Heritage Resources Agency’s export ban, she jilted us at the altar for the sale here in London, all eyes were on her fate at the auction.”
‘The Malay Bride’ is an example of Stern’s furious outburst of painting in the 1940s. Disillusioned with the war in the West, Stern looked for an exciting alternative in the exoticism and Otherness of the East. The vibrant cultural and religious life of the Malay community in Cape Town was everything she was looking for.
Stern was also attracted by the splendour of Muslim women in their finery and ornate dress, and she tried to replicate this in her painting. ‘The Malay Bride’ is perfectly regal. Though the bride’s attire isn’t overly elaborate, adhering to religious codes, flecks of gold highlight the ‘medora’ that covers her hair, and white checks stamp the front of her robe. Stern infuses the scene with a further sense of majesty through the use of glowing golden tones.
This compelling image, signed and indistinctly dated and enclosed within its original richly ornamented Zanzibar frame, speaks of both the culture that it represents and the artist who created it.
Peppiatt said ‘The Malay Bride’ was something of a mystery.
â€œThe face and clothes provide clues as to who she might be–a bride, beautiful and dignified, ceremoniously formal–but her character is cloaked in vivid colours, textures, and sketchy brushwork. Therein lies her charm.”
‘Portrait of a young African lady wearing a blue shawl’ by Alfred Neville Lewis, Dumile Feni-Mhlaba’s ‘Applause’, and Frederick Hutchison Page’s ‘All the long tomorrows’ all sold for world record prices.
Gerard Sekoto’s ‘Girl with guitar’ also made a world record for one of the artist’s post-exile works.
Other artists whose works appeared in the top ten of the sale include Jacob Hendrik Pierneef, Stanley Pinker, and Vladimir Tretchikoff.