The Irma Stern Museum, Cape Town


The Irma Stern Museum in Rosebank, Cape Town, offers fascinating insight into the life and times of one of South Africa’s most famous artist’s.

Did you know?

Irma Stern’s painting of a Zanzibari woman, entitled Bahora Girl, sold for a record-breaking R26.42-million in 2010.

South African artist Irma Stern is one of the country’s best-known artists whose works continue to break records for the sale prices they achieve at international auctions.

A little-known treasure in Cape Town is a museum in what was once her home for close on 40 years. In 1972, the house was opened as a museum, conserving a comprehensive collection of her work, her private collection of antique furniture, and African art.

Stern was born in 1894 in Schweizer-Reneke to German-Jewish parents in what is now the North West province, where her father had a trading store. He was interned during the South African War (1899 to 1902 – also known as the Anglo-Boer War) for his pro-Boer sympathies. As a consequence, the family lived in South Africa and Germany on and off.

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In 1913, Stern left South Africa to study art, initially at the Weimar Academy but later moving to Berlin, where she was exposed to the German expressionist movement as a protege of Max Pechstein, who was to be labelled as a degenerate artist in later years by the Nazis.

At Stern’s first exhibition in Cape Town in 1920 she shocked the staid colonial art world with her exuberant oils, but went on to receive international recognition and host more than 100 solo exhibitions.

The Irma Stern Museum, once called The Firs, is located in Rosebank close to the University of Cape Town, which administers it with the Irma Stern Trust.

This is where she lived and worked as a painter, sculptor and ceramicist from 1927 onwards, initially with her husband, Johannes Prinz, who was professor of German at the university until their marriage failed in 1934. She continued to live here until her death in 1966, furnishing it with colourful treasures gathered on her travels in Europe and Africa.

An imposing, flamboyant woman, Stern was famous for her dinner parties, which she hosted at a large wooden table (which can still be seen in the house) and where she presided over proceedings from a throne-like chair.

Stern travelled extensively in Africa, to places like the Congo and Zanzibar in the 1930s and 1940s, from whence she collected many African artefacts, found subjects for her paintings and brought back heavy carved wooden doors. The museum also features a recreation of her original art studio.

Source: South Africa

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