Irma Stern

(1894 - 1966)

About

“And what she knows of Africa, the heart of it; all her pictures breathe it out…” Cape Times, 1929

Irma Stern was a prominent South African artist who attained national and international recognition in her lifetime. Born in the Transvaal of Jewish-German parents, Stern spent her earliest years in South Africa. Following the Boer War, Stern and her family returned to Germany and began travelling frequently, which was to later influence her works and progress as an artist. From 1913-1920 Stern studied in Germany where she became associated with the German Expressionists of this period, one of her greatest influences. They encouraged her work and assisted her in arranging her first exhibition in Berlin in 1919. Stern returned to Cape Town in 1920 where she was initially disapproved of.  Her work was not understood by the artistically unadventurous citizens. Stern, however, persisted with her vocation, with energetic brushwork and vivid use of colour in her numerous portraits, still life paintings and landscapes and was regarded as an established artist by the 1940s. 

Irma Stern refused to visit or exhibit in Germany from 1933 to 1945, which resulted in several exotic expeditions in Europe and Africa. Stern explored Southern Africa, Zanzibar and the Congo and travelled extensively in Europe and her journeys supplied much inspiration in terms of subject matter and colour for her paintings. Her works featured exotic figures, portraits, fertile landscapes and still lifes in a range of media, varying from oils and water colours to gouache and charcoal. Stern's work is a visual feast, providing a rich, textual experience for the viewer. 

Almost one hundred solo exhibitions were held during Stern’s lifetime both in South Africa and Europe. Her initially controversial work played a huge role in introducing modern art to South Africa and she has paved a leading path for South African female artists.  Stern’s works continue to rise in global interest in her passionate, rebellious nature which is reflected in her vibrant works increases. The Irma Stern Museum in Rondebosch, Cape Town, was established in 1971 in the house the artist lived in for almost four decades, until her death. This colourfullocation is an apt space to accommodate the famous works of such a celebrated and admired artist.

  • Chronology

    1894

    Born of German-Jewish parents at Schweizer-Reneke, North West Province, South Africa

    1896

    Family visits Germany

    1899

    Brother, Rudi, Born

    Second South African War begins

    1900

    British occupy Schweizer-Reneke (May)

    Father and uncle arrested – Leaves for Cape Town with her mother (September)

    1901

    The family leaves for Europe and settles in Germany

    1903

    The family returns to Schweizer-Reneke

    1904

    Leaves for Europe, stopping at Zanzibar

    Settles in Berlin

    1909

    Returns to South Africa with Johannes Prinz, settles in Wolmaransstad

    1910

    Visits Victoria Falls

    Leaves for Europe via east coast and settles in Berlin (December)

    1912

    Commences formal art studies in Berlin

    1913

    Transfers to the Wiemar Academy, studies under Carl Fritjof Smith

    Stern family visits Wolmaransstad and Cape Town, South Africa (August-December)

    1914

    First World War begins – Stern returns to Weimar Academy to study under Professor Gari Melchers (August)

    Transfers to Berlin, studies under Martin Brandenberg

    1916

    Paints ‘The Eternal Child’

    Leaves teacher Martin Brandenberg

    1917

    Meets Max Pechstein

    1918

    Founder member of 'Novembergruppe', Berlin

    1920

    Stern family returns to South Africa and settles in Cape Town

    Publishes portfolios ‘Visionen’ and ‘Dumela Marena’

    1921

    Johannes Prinz arrives in Cape Town

    1922

    Visit to Umgababa (September)

    1923

    Writes ‘Umgababa Buch’ (May)

    Travels to Europe on theUsaramoand meets Hippolyto Raposo

    1924

    Returns to South Africa

    Visits Northern Transvaal, Zululand, Natal (March-September)

    1925

    Shared a studio with Ruth Prowse – 16 Wale Street, Cape Town

    1926

    Visits Swaziland and Zululand (March)

    Marries Johannes Prinz (April)

    Visits Europe

    1927

    Publication of Osborn’s monograph

    Buys 'The Firs' residence, Rosebank, Cape Town

    Visits Swaziland (October-November)

    1929

    Visits Pondoland (March)

    1931

    Visits Madeira (September-November)

    Visits Europe (November)

    1933

    Informs Prinz that the marriage is over

    1934

    Divorce granted

    1935

    Samual Stern (father) dies

    1937

    Visits Europe

    Spends four months in Italy

    1938

    Visits Dakar and Europe

    1939

    Visits Zanzibar for four months

    1942

    Travels to the Congo, exhibits in Elizabethville

    1943

    'Congo' published

    1944

    Henny Stern (mother) dies

    1945

    Visits Zanzibar

    1946

    Travels to the Congo

    1947

    Travels to Europe – exhibits in Paris, Rotterdam, London and Brussels

    1948

    Visits Europe – attends the Venice Biennale

    Visits North Africa

    1950

    Visits Madeira, Madrid, south of France

    1951

    Painting trip to Natal

    1953

    Visits Rome and sees the Picasso retrospective

    1955

    Visits Europe and exhibits in Germany

    Travels to Turkey

    Visits the Congo

    1956

    Visits Europe and exhibits in Berlin

    Rudi Stern (brother) dies

    1959

    Tours Europe

    1961

    Visits Europe – paints in Spain

    1962

    Visits Madeira and North Africa

    1963

    Returns from spending almost a year in Europe

    Travels to Madeira for four months

    1965

    Paints on the Riviera, Paris

    1966

    Dies 23 August in the Volkshospitaal, Cape Town

    1971

    Conversion of her houseThe Firs,in Rosebank (Cape Town), into the Irma Stern Musue

  • Studies

    1912

    Commences formal art studies in Berlin

    1913

    Weimar Academy under Carl Fritjof Smith

    1914

    Studies under Professor Gari Melchers, Martin Brandenburg at the Levin-Funcke Studio, Berlin

    Later returned to Wiemar for a brief spell at the Bauhaus

  • Exhibitions

    1918

    Two works accepted by 'Freie Sezession', Berlin

    1919

    First Solo exhibition, Fritz Gurlitt Gallery, Berlin

    1920

    Publishes portfolios ‘Visionen’ and ‘Dumela Marena’

    Exhibits with 'Freie Sezession', Berlin

    1922

    First Solo South African exhibition, Ashbey’s Galleries, Cape Town (February)

    1923

    Solo exhibition, Fritz Gurlitt Gallery, Berlin

    1924

    Exhibits Frankfurt, Leipzig, Chemnitz, Vienna, Berlin

    Exhibited atThe Empire Exhibition,Wembley, London

    1925

    Solo exhibition, Ashbey’s Galleries, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, Galerie Goldschmidt, Breslau

    Solo exhibition, Galerie Goldschmidt, Frankfurt

    1926

    Solo exhibition, Levson Gallery, Johannesburg

    Solo exhibition, Ashbey’s Galleries, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, Champion’s Art Gallery, Bloemfontein

    1927

    Solo exhibition, Galerie le Triptyque, Paris

    Solo exhibition, Galerie Billiet-Vorms, Paris

    Solo exhibition, Fritz Gurlitt Gallery, Berlin

    Solo exhibition, Galerie Goldschmidt, Breslau

    1928

    Solo exhibition, Galerie Themis, Brussels

    1929

    Solo exhibition, Galerie Goldschmidt, Frankfurt

    Solo exhibition, Galerie Billiet-Vorms, Paris

    Solo exhibition, Galerie Nierendorff, Berlin

    Solo exhibition, Kestner Gesellschaft, Hanover

    Solo exhibition, Galerie Wurthle, Vienna

    Solo exhibition, Ashbey’s Galleries, Cape Town

    Selected to represent South Africa onEmpire Art Exhibition, South Kensington, London

    Works included in the International Jewish Exhibition, Zurich

    1930

    Solo exhibition, Galerie van Lier, Amsterdam

    Solo exhibition, Galerie Kleikamp, Den Haag

    1932

    Solo exhibition, Foyles Gallery, London

    Solo exhibition, Galerie Kleikamp, Den Haag

    Solo exhibition, Fritz Gurlitt Gallery, Berlin

    Solo exhibition, Galerie Billiet-Vorms, Paris

    1933

    Solo exhibition, MacFadyen Hall, Pretoria

    Solo exhibition, Lazard Galleries, Johannesburg

    1934

    Solo exhibition, Newlands House, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch

    1935

    Solo exhibition, Galerie Kleikamp, Den Haag

    Solo exhibition, Selwyn Chambers, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, The Criterion, JohannesburgSolo exhibition, Durban Art Gallery, Durban

    1936

    Solo exhibition, Selwyn Chambers, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, The Criterion, Johannesburg

    1937

    Solo exhibition, Galerie Kleikamp, Den Haag

    Solo exhibition, Cooling Galleries, London

    Solo exhibition, Leger Gallery, London

    Solo exhibition, Martin Melck House, Cape Town

    Visits Dakar en route to Genoa

    1938

    Solo exhibition, MacFadyen Hall, Pretoria

    Solo exhibition, Martin Melck House, Cape Town

    1939

    Solo exhibition, Sun Buildings, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, Transvaal Art Gallery, Johannesburg

    1940

    Solo exhibition, Gainsborough Galleries, Johannesburg

    1941

    Solo exhibition, Argus Gallery, Cape Town

    1942

    Solo exhibition, Argus Gallery, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, Musee Ethnographique, Elisabethville, The Congo

    Solo exhibition, Durban Art Gallery, Durban

    Solo exhibition, Gainsborough Galleries, Johannesburg

    1943

    Solo exhibition, Argus Gallery, Cape Town

    1944

    Solo exhibition, Argus Gallery, Cape Town

    1945

    Solo exhibition, Argus Gallery, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, Bothner’s Gallery, Johannesburg

    1946

    Solo exhibition, Argus Gallery, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, Bothner’s Gallery, Johannesburg

    1947

    Solo exhibition, Wildenstein, Paris

    Solo exhibition, Argus Gallery, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, Gainsborough Galleries, Johannesburg

    1948

    Solo exhibition, Kunst Kring, Rotterdam

    Solo exhibition, Roland Browse & Debanco, London

    Solo exhibition, Van Eeckmann, Velp

    Participated in the South African Art Exhibition, Tate Gallery, London

    Solo exhibition, Argus Gallery, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, Christie’s Gallery, Pretoria

    1949

    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, Gainsborough Galleries, Johannesburg

    1950

    Participates in the Venice Biennale

    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

    1951

    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, Gainsborough Galleries, Johannesburg

    1952

    Participates in the Venice Biennale

    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

    Exhibited at the Cape Tercentenary celebrations, Cape Town

    1953

    Solo exhibition, Gallery Andre Weil, Paris

    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

    1954

    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

    Participates in the Venice Biennale

    1955

    Solo exhibition, Galerie Wolfgang Gurlitt, Munich

    Solo exhibition, Van Schaik Gallery, Pretoria

    1956

    Solo exhibition, Stadt Gallerie, Linz

    Solo exhibition, Galerie Wassmuth, Berlin

    Solo exhibition, Gainsborough Galleries, Johannesburg

    Quadrennial exhibition of South Africa

    1957

    Retrospective Exhibition, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

    Participates in the Sao Paulo Biennale

    1958

    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

    Participates in the Venice Biennale

    1959

    Solo exhibition, Regency Gallery, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, Albini Gallery, Cape Town

    1960

    Solo exhibition, Galerie Wolfgang Gurlitt, Munich

    Solo exhibition, Stadtische Gallerie, Salzburg

    Solo exhibition, Staat Gallerie, Berlin

    Quadrennial exhibition of South Africa

    1961

    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

    Solo exhibition, Fielding Gallery, Johannesburg

    1962

    Retrospective exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, London

    Solo exhibition, Lidchi Gallery, Cape Town

    1963

    Solo exhibition, South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

    1964

    ExhibitsMy Three Madeiras 1932 1950 1963,Cape Town

    Retrospective Graphic exhibition, Cape Town

    1965

    Solo exhibition, Gallery Andre Weil, Paris

    Solo exhibition, Walter Schwitter Gallery, Pretoria

    1966

    Eighteen paintings exhibited as a memorial tributeinSouth African Art of the 20thCenturyexhibition, Stellenbosch, South Africa

    Retrospective exhibition, Wolpe Gallery, Cape Town

    1967

    Memorial exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, London

    1968

    “Homage to Irma Stern” memorial exhibition, South African National Gallery, Cape Town, the Pretoria Art Museum andthe Johannesburg Art gallery

    Solo exhibition, Rembrandt Art Centre, Johannesburg

  • Collections

    Public Collections - International

    • Bielefeld Art Gallery, West Germany
    • Collection of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, London, UK
    • Musee de l’Art Modern, Paris, France
    • Stedelijk Museum, The Hague
    • Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK
    • Contemporary Art Society, London

    South African Embassies in:

    • Geneva
    • The Hague
    • Madrid
    • Paris
    • London
    • Washington DC

    Galleries & Museums

    • Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town
    • Johannesburg Art Gallery
    • Durban Art Gallery
    • Pretoria Art Museum
    • William Humphreys Gallery, Kimberley
    • Hester Rupert Art Museum, Graaff-Reinet
    • Ann Bryant Gallery, East London
    • Africana Museum, Johannesburg
    • Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Gallery, Port Elizabeth
    • National Museum, Bloemfontein
    • Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg
    • Julius Gordon Africana Centre, Riversdale
    • Irma Stern Museum, University of Cape Town
    • Willem Annandale Art Gallery, Lichtenburg

    Universities

    • University of the Witwatersrand
    • University of South Africa
    • University of the Orange Free State
    • University of Pretoria
    • University of Stellenbosch
    • University of Cape Town

    Private Collections:

    • Numerous private collections in South Africa and Internationally
  • Awards

    1927

    Received the Prix d’Honneur awarded at the International Exhibition, Bordeaux, France

    1952

    Received the Cape Tercentenary Molteno Grant

    1959

    Receives the Molteno Prize

    1960

    Wins the Regional Award of the Peggy Guggenheim International Art Prize

    1963

    Received the Oppenheimer Trust Award at Arts SA Today

    1965

    Awarded the Medal ofHonourfrom the South African Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kun

  • Bibliography

    Arnold, M.Irma Stern: A Feast for the Eye.1995: Fernwood Press: Vlaeberg

    Berman, E.Art and Artists of South Africa.1996. Southern Book Publishers: Johannesburg

    Dubow, N.Irma Stern.1974. C. Struik: Cape Town

    Ogilvie, G.The Dictionary of South African Painters and Sculptors.1988. Everard Read: Johannesburg

Artwork

¡¡