Bonhams to Auction Irma Stern Paintings

An arresting image from Irma Stern’s time in Zanzibar, where she was powerfully affected by the beauty of the local Indian women, features in Bonhams next sale of South African Art in London on October 26 and 27.

There are no fewer than four images by Stern (1894 to 1966) in this sale estimated at between £1.5m to £2m for the quartet.

The Zanzibari beauty which caught Stern’s eye, titled ‘Bahora girl’ is an enchanting image dating from 1945. An oil on canvas it comes with its original Zanzibar frame which adds additional interest and is estimated to sell for £600,000-900,000.

Stern is quoted as saying of the Zanzibari Indians: “How differently live the Indians. Although also in Purdah their surroundings are gay and colourful. On a swing, all shiny with metal, which was hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the bedroom, I found my young friend, Fatu, the Bahora girl. She was swinging gaily when I entered and asked me: ‘Would you like to swing? It is cooler. Her graceful sari flew up in the gentle breeze…….her mode of speech was so polite and well formulated. It was a lovely harmony in this young girl, slim and tall, with the gentle movements of a well-bred race. Her eyes were like dark pools, swimming with the glance of tragedy curious in so young a face, yet so common in the eastern woman.”

During her visits to Zanzibar in the 30?s ad 40?s she wrote with interest about the people, the colour, the fruit, fish and spices and the Arab sailing Dhow’s still trading between Africa and Arabia.

This latest Bonhams sale of South African art features a number of other Stern paintings including:

Irma Stern, ‘Still life of Gladioli on a draped table’, signed and dated ‘Irma Stern 1949?, an oil on canvas, it is estimated to sell for £400,000-600,000.

Head of South African Art at Bonhams, Giles Peppiatt, comments: “We are very pleased with the offering in this sale. There are some very strong works by South Africa’s leading artists. If current trends continue I expect an exciting sale with more records achieved. It gives everyone at Bonhams great satisfaction to know that we are helping to bring an as yet little known group of artists to the attention of the world’s art markets.”

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