IN the space of a fortnight, prices at the top end for South African art took a significant leap forward as the auction record for the Grande Dame of the market, Irma Stern (1894-1966), was broken twice, first in Cape Town and then in London.
Previously, the record for the Transvaal-born but well-travelled
artist was the £490,000 hammer seen for Congolese Woman
from 1946 which sold at Christie's in London in December 2007.
But this figure was smashed first by Strauss & Co
(10% buyer's premium) in Cape Town on October 11 when the
colourful still life from 1939 Gladioli took R12m
(£1.18m), and then by Bonhams (20/12% buyer's premium) who took
£2.1m for Bahora Girl on October 27.
Painted in 1945, the latter, an arresting image of a beautiful
Indian woman from Irma Stern's time in Zanzibar, had been acquired
directly from the artist by a member of the vendor's family.
The 2ft 10in x 2ft 4in (87 x 71) oil on canvas came in its
original Zanzibar frame and was estimated at £600,000-900,000.
It sold to a buyer in the room, who saw off multiple telephone
Contrary to some reports, this was not a record for a South
African artist. That accolade belongs to Marlene Dumas (b.1953)
whose 1995 painting The Visitor made £2.8m at Sotheby's in
By Alex Capon