A collection of recent acquisitions featuring works by Irma Stern, Sydney Lough Thompson, Sir William Dargie, Rita Angus & Paulémile Pissaro.
A key work in the collection is a watercolour by South African artist Irma Stern.
Irma Stern was born in Schweitzer-Renecke, a small town in the Transvaal, to German-Jewish parents. During the Boer War, Stern’s father was interned in a concentration camp by the British because of his pro-Boer leanings. Their mother thus took Irma and her younger brother, Rudi, to Cape Town. After the war, the family returned to Germany and constantly travelled. This period in Stern’s life would influence her work greatly.
The outbreak of the First World War (1914-18) forced the Stern and her family to remain in Europe until hostilities had ceased. It is during this period that Stern seriously applied herself to painting. In 1913 she enrolled at the Weimar Academy where she studied under Gari Melchers (Melcheris) and the following year went to the Levin-Funcke Studio in Berlin, working under the guidance of Martin Brandenburg. She then returned to Weimar and studied for a short time at Das Bauhaus. Stern was also associated with the German Expressionist painters of this period. She held her first exhibition in Berlin in 1919.
On her return to South Africa, Stern held her first exhibition in the Ashbey Gallery in 1920. Her work, which deviated greatly from the art accepted in Cape Town at that time, evoked strong reaction, although a few critics, notably H.S. Caldecott, Leon Levson, and Hilda Purnitzsky, reacted favorably. Whilst her work was not immediate appreciated in South Africa, it garnered international fame. In 1929 her work was presented at the annual exhibition of the Imperial Institute in London and at the International Jewish Exhibition in Zürich.
Stern married her tutor, Dr Johannes Prinz, in 1926. The relationship would, however, not last and the couple formally divorced in 1934. Sterns earlier exposure to travel permeated throughout her life. Gradually Irma became acknowledged as an established artist and from the 1940s achieved success both locally, in South Africa, and internationally. Stern had over a hundred solo exhibitions during her lifetime both in South Africa and Europe: including Germany, France, Italy and England.
She received various awards, namely the Prix d’ honneur at the International Exhibition in Bordeaux (1927), the ‘Cape Tercentenary Grant’ (1952), She was one of the first modern painters in South Africa to paint in the idiom of contemporary European artistic trends such as German expressionism. Although her work had a strong personal stamp, it was never static and showed traces of cubism and fauvism. A dynamic painter, Irma was one of the most important artists South Africa. She was a stimulating influence in the development of art and artistic appreciation in South Africa and the major exponent of expressionism in this country.