When does a work of art become part of a countrys national heritage? Bonhams
next sale of South African Art on 21st March 2012 in New Bond Street, London, may go some way towards answering that question when Zulu Woman by Irma Stern goes under the hammer.
Painted in 1935 at the height of her creative powers by South Africas leading artist, Irma Stern, it is estimated to sell for £400,000 to £600,00. As Irma Sterns reputation is without equal in the field of South African art and the image is an iconic one of African womanhood from one of South Africas leading tribes, there is every reason to believe it qualifies as something very special.
There are supporting arguments: Irma Stern is one of the five most highly sought after female artists in the world; South Africa is currently governed by President Jacob Zuma, a Zulu by birth, and the history of the Zulus is central to the history Southern Africa. It is a powerful case. How powerful will be evident in the amount of bidding on the day and the price achieved.
The picture was acquired in Johannesburg between 1946-1950 by the current owner's father.
Giles Peppiatt, Director of South African Art at Bonhams comments: One of the really exciting things about fine art auctioneering is the way in which you get to see trends developing, artists reputations rising and falling, new names emerging. The last five years has seen a virtual revolution in the assessment of South African art with prices reaching into the multi millions for the first time. The most consistent trend during this time is the pre-eminence of Irma Stern. And that is for a very good reason. She was the first European trained painter to depict African scenes in a way that was demonstrably African. You could argue that she actually helped to create a new kind of art painted by whites but with an African aesthetic.
Irma Stern was born in South Africa to German parents and the family returned to Berlin after the Boer War. She studied art at the Weimar Academy and later with Max Pechstein, and so was associated with the German Expressionist painters of this period. She held her first exhibition in Berlin in 1919 before returning to Cape Town with her family in 1920.