Irma Stern's Arabian portrait triumphs at Bonhams African art sale

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Irma Stern's Arabian portrait triumphs at Bonhams African art sale
Arab with Dagger by Irma Stern. Sold for: £922,750. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- One of Irma Stern’s major Zanzibar paintings Arab with Dagger sold for £922,750 at Bonhams’ Modern and Contemporary African Art sale in London today, Wednesday 17 March. It had been estimated at £700,000-1,000,000. The 79-lot sale made a total of £3,735,310.

The Arab community of Zanzibar was a powerful inspiration for Irma Stern during her two extended stays on the island in 1939 and 1945. It was on her second trip that she painted Arab with Dagger. Stern was particularly fascinated by the older men in whose faces she saw, in her own words, “depths of suffering, profound wisdom and full understanding of all the pleasures of life – faces alive with life's experiences.”

Bonhams Director of African Art, Giles Peppiatt said: “The two visits to Zanzibar were among the most productive periods of Irma Stern’s career and Arab with Dagger is one of the finest works from this time. It is a remarkably spiritual painting which conveys Stern’s deep respect for her subject and I am not surprised that it was in such demand. It is also very encouraging to see the impressive results for works by contemporary Zimbabwean artists in the sale – such as Kudzanai-Violet Hwami’s Adam and Steve joined by the knee, a study, which achieved more than double its pre-sale estimate.” ”

Other highlights included:

• The Eastern Cataracts of the Victoria Falls by Thomas Baines (1820-1875). Painted in July 1862, this is one of the earliest-ever depictions of the Victoria Falls. Sold for £574,750. A new world record for the artist. (Estimate: £150,000-200,000).

• Crucifix by the Nigerian artist Yusef Grillo (b 1934). Sold for £237,500. A new world record for the artist. (Estimate: £50,000-80,000.

• Anyanwu by Ben Enwonwu (1917-1994). Sold for £237,500. (Estimate: £120,000-180,000).

• Ayi and Tayi by Yusef Grillo (b 1934). Sold for £225,250. (Estimate: £100,000-150,000).

• Adam and Steve joined by the knee, a study, by Kudzanai-Violet Hwami. Born in 1993, Hwami has already received more acclaim in her short career than many achieve in their lifetime. Selected to represent Zimbabwe at the Venice Biennale in 2019, aged only 26, Hwami has enjoyed successful solo exhibitions at the Tyburn Gallery and Gasworks in London, and is represented up by Victoria Miro. Later this year she will take part in a group exhibition at the Pompidou Centre, Paris. Sold for £81,500. (Estimate: £30,000 - £50,000).

• Complete, 2014, by Portia Zvavahera (Zimbabwean, born 1985). Zvavahera has noted the fluidity and flatness afforded by using oil-based inks, allowing her to build richly layered surfaces. She draws upon her deeply held sense of spirituality and accompanying rituals of belief to embody the predominantly female figures. Moving beyond literal autobiography and self-portraiture, the figures depicted become archetypal expressions of feminine experiences of faith and motherhood. Sold for £75,250. (Estimate: £60,000 - 90,000).

• J. Neil Rodger (South African, 1941-2013), Passatempi in Villa, a triptych individual canvas. Sold for £32,750. A new world record for the artist.

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