19th Jun, 2024 19:00

20th Century & Contemporary Art

Lot 45
Lot 45 - Irma Stern (South Africa 1894-1966)


Irma Stern (South Africa 1894-1966)
Dahlias and Fruit

oil on canvas

Artwork date: 1960
Signature details: signed and dated bottom right

Sold for R5,600,000
Estimated at R6,000,000 - R8,000,000


oil on canvas

Artwork date: 1960
Signature details: signed and dated bottom right


104 x 94 cm; framed size: 109 x 100 x 6 cm


Private collection, Johannesburg.


Irma Stern’s mastery in handling paint and colour is most vividly exemplified in the brilliant still-life compositions that she painted throughout her life. Although many of Irma Stern’s diverse subjects stem from notations during her many travels and expeditions, the interior spaces of her home and the sanctuary of her studio were as significant to her as the broader outside world. Her still-life paintings embody some of her most opulent and sensual creations. In these depictions of lavish, flowers, personal items and organic objects, she seamlessly integrates form and content, Modernist concerns with visual language, and social commentary on nature, material culture and personal emotions.

Painted in 1960, the same year she won the Peggy Guggenheim International Art Prize, Dahlias and Fruit is indisputably one of the most vibrant paintings Stern ever produced. Alive with colour and bursting with expressive energy, it immerses the viewer in a luscious array of flowers and fruits. Complementary colours animate each other: crimson reds vibrate against lush greens, the vivid lemon vase highlights the lilac blooms and cloth, while orange dahlias pulse against the blue background.

Stern’s palpable joy in both the subject and the medium underscores her love for food and flowers, whether capturing their voluptuous forms or indulging in them abundantly.

This magnificent still life possesses the immediacy of a work beautifully painted with passion and completed in a fervent, unhesitating moment.


  • Irma Stern currently features in the prestigious, 60th International Art Exhibition, Foreigners Everywhere, at The Venice Biennale, curated by Adriano Pedrosa and running from 20 April to 24 November 2024.
  • In her lifetime, Stern exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1950, 1952, 1954 and 1958.
  • Stern has consistently retained her role as one of Africa’s top-selling artists at auction, with her market reaching $31.5 million in 2023.
  • Arab Priest (1945) was purchased by the Qatar Museum (formerly Qatar Museums Authority) in 2011 for $4.9 million, thus achieving the record as the most expensive South African painting sold at auction.
  • Important early recognition includes the artist’s first exhibition in 1919 at Fritz Gurlitt Gallery, one of Berlin’s most noteworthy art salons and in 1927 inclusion in a series of monographs, Junge Kunst, on leading modernist painters such as Matisse, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, and Picasso.
  • Significant awards include the Prix d’Honneur at the Bordeaux International Exhibition (1927), the Molteno Grant for outstanding work (1952), the Peggy Guggenheim international art prize (1960), the Oppenheimer Award (1963) and the Medal of Honor of Die Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns (1965).
  • Large-scale museum exhibitions include Irma Stern and expressionism: Africa and Europe. Pictures and drawings up to 1945 at the Kunsthalle Bielefeld in Germany in 1996, and a retrospective Irma Stern: Expressions of a Journey, at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg in 2003.
  • Most recently, Norval Foundation in Cape Town exhibited Irma Stern: The Zanzibari Years, from 3 November 2021 to 1 August 2022.
  • Recent publications include Irma Stern: Are you Still Alive? (2017) by Professor Sandra Klopper, Irma Stern and the Racial Paradox of South African Modern Art: Audacities of Color (2020) by the award-winning and social justice advocate, American scholar and educator, Dr LaNitra M. Berger, and Sean O’Toole’s, Irma Stern: African in Europe – European in Africa (2020).
  • After Irma Stern’s death in 1966, the artist’s home along with its contents was considered a national legacy and in 1972, it became the Irma Stern Museum, which can still be visited today in Rosebank, Cape Town.


The artist is represented in numerous local and international collections, notably, Bielefeld Art Gallery, Germany; Collection of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, London; Musee de l’Art Modern, Paris, France; Stedelijk Museum, The Hague and Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town.

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Auction: 20th Century & Contemporary Art, 19th Jun, 2024




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