Irma Stern

(1894 – 1966)

“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.

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 the Usaramoand 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 house The Firs,in Rosebank (Cape Town), into the Irma Stern Museum

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

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 at The 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 on Empire 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

Exhibits My 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 tribute in South African Art of the 20th Century exhibition, 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 and the Johannesburg Art gallery

Solo exhibition, Rembrandt Art Centre, Johannesburg

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

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

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