Stern, Irma

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STERN, IRMA (1894–1966), South African painter. Irma Stern was born of a German family in Schweizer-Renecke, Transvaal, but was taken to Europe as a girl. She studied in Vienna and Berlin. Back in South Africa after World War i, she shocked the public with her bold palette and expressionist method, which were regarded as aggressively modern. Within a few years, however, she came to be recognized for the vital qualities of her work and her paintings were bought for many public and private collections. She used exuberant harmonies and heavy draftsmanship. Sometimes her still lifes and flower pieces tended to grossness, but more often her compositions were relieved by a vein of tenderness and, especially in her watercolors, by poetry and simplicity of approach. She portrayed colored, Malay, and Indian types, and traveled to the Congo and Zanzibar, bringing back many African and Arab studies. She exhibited in Johannesburg and Cape Town and in Europe. In 1971 the University of Cape Town established an Irma Stern Museum to exhibit her work.


Sachs, in: Jewish Affairs, no. 1 (1967), 38–43; Eglington, ibid., 21, no. 9 (1966), 20–21; Martienssen, in: Lantern (Dec. 1968). add. bibliography: I. Below, Hidden Treasures, Irma Stern: Her Books… (2000); N. Dubow, Irma Stern (1974); K. Schoeman, Irma Stern: The Early Years, 18941933 (1994).

[Lewis Sowden]