Irma Stern is seen as one of the most important artists to be produced by South Africa. Her work has been celebrated by numerous exhibitions all over the world and has also found a home in many embassies throughout Europe.
In 1926 Ms Stern married Johannes Prinz, her earlier mentor, who later became professor of German at UCT. While living in South African with her new husband, Stern would often return to Europe to exhibit in places like Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam. A year later she was recognised at the ‘Bordeaux International Exhibition’ for her efforts and subsequently elected to represent her homeland at the ‘Empire Art Exhibition’ in London a short while later.
Unfortunately their marriage was never a happy one and each went their separate ways in 1934. This was also during the time of political unrest in Europe and especially Germany. Stern used this new phase in her life to explore the many rich cultures of Africa. At times she stayed away for months at a time, undertaking trips to places like Senegal, Zanzibar and Congo. The artist used these trips to explore the land and collect subject matter for some of her paintings. In addition to this she would also go on to publish two books about her travels to Congo and Zanzibar respectively. These paintings often focussed on culture rather than individuals. She used the people whom she came into contact with as subject matter and studied them as a representation of the culture at large.
Her approach was in contrast to many other South African artists of the time. People like Dorothy Kay, Constance Greaves and Joyce McCrea were considered to be realist painters whereas Stern’s approach was different. Her personal style and expressive nature had a significant influence on the subjects of her paintings. Stern was at the peak of her career during the 40s and 50s. She often travelled to Europe during this time, but was still firmly rooted as a South African artist during this time.
Source credit: sahistory.org.za and wikiart.org