Although her life begin in the obscure little town of Schweitzer-Renecke, her story really began as an art student in Germany. She showed tremendous growth as an artist, first at the Weimar Academy and later under Max Pechstein at Levin-Funcke Studio. Stern found herself in the company of numerous great German expressionists at the time. The artist had a sense of German precision and will to succeed at all cost. History has it that Stern would often cut herself off from the world by putting up a “do not disturb” sign outside her studio and relied on her cigarettes and strong black coffee to get her through another project. She would stay there until it was finished and had a personal philosophy of never touching the canvas after she had finished a painting.
She took part in almost one hundred exhibitions across Europe and South Africa. Even though her work had received much acclaim from as early as 1920, it took another decade or two for Stern to found a way into the hearts of her homeland. Upon her return to the republic around 1927, Irma Stern moved into her first house in Rondebosch and stayed there until her death in 1966.
Irma Stern is one of South Africa most accomplished and well-known artists, but not before reviews titled her work as “Art of Miss Irma Stern – Ugliness as a cult”. Whether the thieves who stole one of her paintings knew this much about her is debatable, fortunately her work was recovered from under a bench in a Port Elizabeth cemetry in 2012.