30th Nov, 2022 18:00

20th Century & Contemporary Art

  Lot 46
Lot 46 - Irma Stern (South Africa 1894-1966)


Irma Stern (South Africa 1894-1966)
Boats, Zanzibar

gouache and pencil crayon on paper

Artwork date: 1939
Signature details: signed and dated bottom right

Estimated at R900,000 - R1,200,000


gouache and pencil crayon on paper

Artwork date: 1939
Signature details: signed and dated bottom right


50.5 x 68 cm; framed size: 75 x 91 x 2 cm


Private collection, Pretoria.


Although Stern often produced lively pencil sketches to record the people and places she encountered while travelling both locally and abroad, she always relied on gouache to capture the immediacy of her response to the experience of light and colour in sun-drenched landscapes and coastal venues. In Stern’s gouache depicting fishing boats on a beach in Zanzibar, the high vantage point reinforces this sense of immediacy, encouraging the viewer to enjoy the space as though physically present. Stern further augmented this impression through both the daring truncation of boats in the foreground and the hazy addition of white-washed buildings and palm trees in the distance.

At once lively and tranquil, this scene was recorded during Stern’s first visit to Zanzibar, which coincided with the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 when intercontinental travel had all but ceased. While this affords a plausible explanation for the artist’s decision to visit an island on the east coast of Africa, according to Stern it was her childhood memory of the stories recounted by the family’s Zanzibari cook that prompted her decision to go there. Then a British Protectorate, Zanzibar was described in a brochure dating to the 1930s as a remote but interesting landmark populated by a picturesque mix of people.

On her return to Cape Town Stern provided an enthusiastic account of her trip, including references to members of the different Muslim communities she had encountered and painted while in Zanzibar. Most were from the prosperous communities living in Stone Town, but she also recorded some of the local fishermen, many of whom lived in Ng’ambo (‘the other side’, in Swahili), the settlement across the creek from the island’s historic centre. It is possible that Stern captured this scene of haphazardly tethered fishing boats against a shallow stretch of water while looking back from Ng’ambo to Stone Town.

Sandra Klopper

Professor Emeritus, University of Cape Town


The artist is represented in numerous local and international collections, notably, Bielefeld Art Gallery, Bielefeld.; Collection of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, London.; Musee de l’Art Modern, Paris.; Stedelijk Museum, The Hague.; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.; Contemporary Art Society, London and the South African Embassies in: Geneva, The Hague, Madrid, Paris, London, Washington D.C.

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Auction: 20th Century & Contemporary Art, 30th Nov, 2022


The focused sale brings to market 84 highly collectable lots, with the diverse collection showcasing highlights by modern masters including magnificent still-life compositions and a Zanzibari boat scene by Irma Stern, an Alexis Preller abstract and an early JH Pierneef landscape. Also included is a significant collection of celebrated contemporary artists: Mustafa Maluka, David Koloane, Walter Oltmann, Norman Catherine, Willem Boshoff, a rare self-portrait oil by Robert Hodgins as well as a large bronze sculpture by Zanele Muholi, the first of this new body of work to be offered on auction.
The sale features a special selection of artworks by William Kentridge. One of the most celebrated and influential living artists today, his major retrospective exhibition is currently on show at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. This is one of the most unique and high-quality Kentridge collections to come to market. Spanning his career and showcasing the many mediums in which he works, the sale features signature charcoal drawings alongside collages, tapestry, prints and sculptures.

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