Sun, 17th Jun 2018 18:00

Historic, Modern & Contemporary Art

Lot 41
Lot 41 - Irma Stern, (South Africa 1894–1966)


Irma Stern, (South Africa 1894–1966)
Still life with magnolias, apples and bowl

oil on canvas

Signature details: signed and indistinctly dated 1944/49

Sold for R6,828,000
Estimated at R6,000,000 - R9,000,000

Condition Report

Professionally cleaned, conserved and revarnished, minor stable cracking in areas, good. Report available on request.

Please note, we are not qualified conservators and these reports give our opinion as to the general condition of the works. We advise that bidders view the lots in person to satisfy themselves with the condition of prospective purchases.


oil on canvas

Signature details: signed and indistinctly dated 1944/49


86.5 x 86.5 cm

Acquired from Jo Montgomery, Johannesburg, 27/1/1949 and thence by descent.


Irma Stern produced still life paintings throughout her career, invariably depicting natural and cultural forms. Flowering plants and fruits, often from her garden at The Firs in Rosebank, feature prominently as do artefacts she collected. Comments by Stern’s friends affirm her love of gardening (issuing orders rather than digging holes one suspects) and vases of flowers adorned her home and studio. Berman recalls being invited to lunch with Stern and notes, ‘Pink and white magnolias, fresh from the tree, were placed informally in the centre of the table’ (2003, pp.75–6). Magnolias are an ancient genus pollinated by beetles before the evolution of bees. To avoid damage from pollinating beetles, the carpels of Magnolia flowers are extremely tough. Used as a botanical term ‘primitive’ carries none of the derogatory connotations conferred on ‘primitive’ in references to people; Magnolias are primitive, beautiful survivors. In Stern’s painting, the cut flowers, removed from their natural environment, will last only briefly but they establish a dialogue between the procreative life force of flowering plants and evidence of human creativity – the martaban in which they are placed, and a small post-Sung period Chinese celadon bowl. The martaban, a Chinese storage jar commonly used on trading vessels, is listed in the Irma Stern Museum catalogue as Southern Chinese, provincial prototype Yüan or later. It is damaged and the greyish areas on the dark iron glaze in the painting are missing areas of glaze, not highlights. Stern depicts round vessels and green apples which contrast with opulent pink-mauve and white magnolia petals, a lattice of branches and the linear patterns of a large, woven Zanzibari mat on which everything is placed. The artful construction
evokes a long history of human cultures, a longer history of plant survival and the suspension of time conferred by a skilfully painted still image.

Marion Arnold


Berman, M. (2003). Remembering Irma, Cape Town: Double Storey Books Irma Stern Museum (1971). Catalogue of the Collections in the Irma Stern Museum. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Martaban fragment.

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Auction: Historic, Modern & Contemporary Art, Sun, 17th Jun 2018

In a slow and unresponsive market, amid tight economic conditions generally in South Africa, Aspire Art Auctions made impressive statements and set several world records.

Two rare works by Irma Stern achieved sparkling results. The top lot by value: Still life with magnolias, apples and bowl (1949), fetched R6 828 000, the highest price achieved for a work by Stern for over a year. Another significant still life, Still life with chrysanthemums in the artist’s handmade ceramic jug, from 1950, sold for R3 414 000.

A significant, world record was achieved for Peter Clarke – R1 479 400 for Lazy Day, an acrylic and gouache on paper from 1975, and records were also set for contemporary artists, Zander Blom and Paul Stopforth.


Thursday 14 June 2018 | 10 am – 5 pm
Friday 15 June 2018 | 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday 16 June 2018 | 10 am – 5 pm
Sunday 17 June 2018 | 10 am – 5 pm

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