The Quintessence of Art

The Irma Stern Museum is again enticing the public into the former home of one of South Africa’s most sought-after artists, with an exhibition devoted to Nudes.   

The unique house reflects the artist’s lifestyle and personality in its flamboyance and saturated colours, with a permanent exhibition of her paintings, drawings, ceramics and sculpture.
Her private ethnographic collection is as fascinating as her art, with early European furniture and  African and Oriental art, to say nothing of her zealous acquistion of Zanzibar doors and frames.

Seeing the studio where she worked for over 40 years in its virtuallly unaltered state is always a treat. For more about Stern and a picture of her at work in her studio in 1936, do look over ‘‘In search of Irma Stern, whose paintings still embody the contradictions of South Africa” 

The current exhibition: Irma Stern Nudes, 1916 – 1965, is so beguiling because ”tracing the evolution of Irma Stern’s treatment of the nude over her long career, is also a journey into the artist’s  imagination … where her early training in the classicizing tradition … was challenged by German Expressionsm, with two new modes for representing the nude.
One representing the negative forces of sexuality, the other ethereal and romantic, representing primitivism, which remained a wellspring of her search for timeless exotic subjects for the greater part of her life”. 

Stern is remembered for ”her extraordinary energy, her drive to explore and experiment, her openess to outside influences, her ability to change direction in terms of medium and subject-matter, her capacity to work on different themes at the same time”. 

”She viewed the naked female body through many lenses, all inherited from the various traditions of European art. By engaging with each lens at different times she not only extended the tradition and affirmed her place within it, but found a means to express her own vivid, interior life”. 
For Stern, the nude was not simply a celebration of the naked human body. It was certainly that.
But it was also the quintessence of art, the ultimate vehicle of visual poetry, and the highest form of expression, of sensual fulfilment, of freedom, and of life.”

Curated by Michael Godby, Emeritus Professor of History of Art at UCT and accompanied by his informative book, this show is a must see.
Not only because Stern is such a vibrant, pre-eminent personality but because Godby has brought to light such a large number of Stern’s works rarely seen before, as well as major nudes on loan from public and private collections.   
Reclining Nude in a Painted Frame, 1962

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