30th Nov, 2022 18:00

20th Century & Contemporary Art

Lot 71
Lot 71 - Irma Stern (South Africa 1894-1966)


Irma Stern (South Africa 1894-1966)
Still life with Poinsettias

oil on canvas

Artwork date: 1965
Signature details: signed and dated bottom right

Estimated at R2,000,000 - R3,500,000


oil on canvas

Artwork date: 1965
Signature details: signed and dated bottom right


61.5 x 45 cm; framed size: 70 x 37 x 7 cm


Private collection, Pretoria.


Authenticated by Marion Arnold and Wilhelm Van Rensburg.

Throughout her life, Irma Stern retained a deep interest in producing still-life paintings, noting on one occasion that she wished it were daytime as she badly wanted to return to her studio to work on a series of compositions centred on flowers. Like Still life with Poinsettias with its exuberant display of unruly petals cascading forward as though to embrace the viewer, these paintings often include fruit, flowers and cloths placed in seemingly random arrangements that augment the sense of energetic spontaneity imparted through Stern’s lyrical juxtaposition of saturated colours and her organic strokes of thick, impasto oils.

Over time, as Stern grew less interested in markers of space and place, she used her life-long interest in still life painting to explore increasingly abstract, pictorial interests. Although keenly attentive to the spatial and compositional relationships between the different forms she chose to include in her works, she used these relationships to heighten the tension between asserting illusionistic depth and affirming the surface of the canvas.

In Still life with Poinsettias Stern’s palpable delight in exploring these ambiguities is apparent, most obviously, in her decision to mask the corner of the table behind the vase of flowers, a technique she favoured in countless compositions. In combination with the high viewpoint, this leads to a flattening of the pictorial space. But given the extraordinary sophistication of Stern’s vision, here as in many of her other works, she reasserts a sense of depth by placing a bowl of fruit in the foreground, thereby also anchoring the blue and white cloth scattered across the table.

Since poinsettias naturally flower in winter, this painting probably dates to June or July 1965 and, given their fragility once cut, they were presumably from Stern’s garden in Rosebank rather than Cape Town’s Adderley street flower market.

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 and 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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