Stern’s work proves to be huge drawcard for collectors at London auction of SA art

2013-10-04 00:00

IRMA Stern’s work proved to be a huge drawcard for collectors at an auction of South African art at Bonhams Auctioneers in London on October 2.

The top three pictures at the auction were all by Stern with the biggest seller being her painting The Malay Bride, which achieved £1 202 500 (R19 630 500).

The artist’s Malay girl with fruit went for £182 500 (R2 989 928) and Still life with amaryllis sold for £326 500 (R5 349 104).

None of the works, however, achieved the record price for a Stern painting, R26,6 million for Arab Priest, which was sold to Qatar’s Orientalist Museum in 2011.

According to the Bonhams’ catalogue, The Malay Bride was painted by Stern following a visit to Zanzibar in 1945.

It was acquired directly from her by Boris Gersman, from Johannesburg, who, with his wife, Zillah, gave it to their daughter on the occasion of her wedding in 1959. It has remained in private hands ever since.

Stern’s fascination with Islam reportedly developed from an introduction to Cape Malay culture and then grew from her two trips to Zanzibar. She was especially attracted by the splendour of Muslim women in their finery and adornment. The Malay Bride is enclosed in an original Zanzibar frame, which is rich with decoration and reflects the fusion of African and Indian visual culture.

Giles Peppiatt, director of South African art at Bonhams, said: “The Malay Bride is something of a mystery. The 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.

“It is not surprising that this picture attracted the amount of interest that it did, even though it cannot be exported from South Africa.”

Exactly what will happen to the painting now, given that Bonhams was banned from removing it from the country by an export prohibition imposed by the South African Heritage Resources Agency, isn’t known.

This week’s London sale featured some 128 works of art and made a total of £3 218 428 (R52 482 936).

Alfred Neville Lewis’s Portrait of a young African lady wearing a blue shawl, Dumile Feni-Mhlaba’s Applause, and Frederick Hutchison Page’s All the long tomorrows all sold for world-record prices.

And Gerard Sekoto’s Girl with guitar made a world record for one of the artist’s post-exile works.

Other artists whose works were up for sale included Pierneef, Stanley Pinker, Maggie Laubse, George Pemba, Walter Battiss, Lucas Sithole, Maud Sumner, Gregoire Boonzaier and Vladimir Tretchikoff.

The sale confirmed the strength of the market for South African art in London, with local and international bidders reportedly competing furiously for the lots on offer.

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