Strauss & co - Irma Stern - Two Arabs

Irma Stern’s Zanzibari paintings are amongst the most sought-after of all her works. Stern described the island as “the gateway to the centre of Africa” 1 in her book on Zanzibar. Since her first visit there in 1939, Stern had been captivated by the place and its peoples who remained a great source of inspiration throughout her career. In his opening speech in 1982 for the exhibition, Irma Stern in Zanzibar 1939 and 1945 , Professor Neville Dubow, then Director of the Irma Stern Museum, described the impact of the place on her paintings as: ... that kind of visual stimulus that she translated into the pictures you see around you. They represent aspects of Irma at the heights of her creative powers. They have in them that life force that she, more than any other South African artist working at the time, was able so powerfully to communicate. 2 Two Arabs , painted in 1939, is undoubtedly the most important Irma Stern to come onto the South African market in recent years. Here two men, with their heads draped in richly coloured turbans, share a moment of intense reflection over a cup of coffee. In Stern’s own words: “Their hands gesticulating, their faces expressed depths of suffering, profound wisdom and full understanding of all the pleasures of life – faces alive with life’s experiences”. 3 In her authoritative monograph on the artist, Marion Arnold comments that many of Stern’s paintings of men “deal less with a generic masculinity than with identifiable individuals”. She goes on to state of the companion piece to this painting, now in the collection of the Rupert Art Foundation: Their self-containment and gravity impart dignity while a sense of oriental exoticism is conveyed through vibrant colour interactions. 4 The superbly carved wooden frame is embellished with flowers and foliage. The purpose of these symbols, originally designed as door ornamentation, is to bring good fortune to the household as Stern explains in her book. Containing vestiges of Indian decoration, they confirm Stern’s great admiration for the Arab and Asian cultures she encountered on Africa’s east coast. The painting has an excellent provenance, having been held in the private collection of Mr and Mrs Louis Schachat and since in another private collection. It was included in the commemorative exhibition, Homage to Irma Stern 1894 - 1966 , presented by the Rembrandt van Rijn Art Foundation Two Arabs to be auctioned by Strauss & Co The Golden Shawl signed and dated 1945, oil on canvas, 65,5 by 56cm Iziko: South African National Gallery © Estate of Irma Stern. All Rights Reserved, DALRO 2011 Two Arabs signed and dated 1939, oil on canvas, 83 by 90cm Collection of the Rupert Art Foundation © Estate of Irma Stern. All Rights Reserved, DALRO 2011