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Irma Stern Makes New £2.4 Million World Record for South African Art at Bonhams in London
Irma Stern´s Bahora Girl sold for £2.4 Million. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- An arresting image from Irma Stern’s time in Zanzibar, where she was powerfully affected by the beauty of the local Indian women, attracted sustained bidding at Bonhams in London today, achieving a staggering price of £2.4m (R26.42m) double the previous record of R13m. The auction of 151 pictures and sculptures made a total of £6m.

Giles Peppiatt, Head of South African Art at Bonhams, said: “ Once again Bonhams has demonstrated the growing interest in South African art and the wisdom of selling in London to an international audience.”

The record breaking picture was knocked down to a client bidding in the room, who saw off multiple telephone bidders and others also competing in the auction saleroom.

Before the sale Bonhams said it believed this painting, estimated at £600,000 to £900,000 could set a new world record for South African art sold at auction if current trends continued. In the event the painting surpassed expectations and makes history for South African art which can be said to have truly come of age in London.

The Zanzibari beauty which caught Stern’s eye, titled ‘Bahora girl’ is an enchanting image dating from 1945. An oil on canvas it comes with its original Zanzibar frame which adds additional interest.

Today’s result of £2.4 (R26.42m) for the delicately featured Bahora Girl will have the art world taking a fresh look at art out of Africa.

Hannah O’Leary, a specialist in the South African art department, comments: “It gives everyone at Bonhams great satisfaction to know that we are helping to bring an as yet little known group of artists to the attention of the world’s art markets. Today’s sale marks a massive milestone in that journey of recognition.”

Stern is quoted as saying of the Zanzibari Indian girl she painted: "How differently live the Indians. Although also in Purdah their surroundings are gay and colourful. On a swing, all shiny with metal, which was hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the bedroom, I found my young friend, Fatu, the Bahora girl. She was swinging gaily when I entered and asked me: 'Would you like to swing? It is cooler. Her graceful sari flew up in the gentle breeze…….her mode of speech was so polite and well formulated. It was a lovely harmony in this young girl, slim and tall, with the gentle movements of a well-bred race. Her eyes were like dark pools, swimming with the glance of tragedy curious in so young a face, yet so common in the eastern woman."

During her visits to Zanzibar in the 30’s and 40’s Stern wrote with interest about the people, the colour, the fruit, fish and spices and the Arab sailing dhows still trading between Africa and Arabia.

This latest Bonhams sale of South African art featured a number of other strong results for Stern paintings as well as other top South African artists.

One of South Africa’s artistic giants, Jacob Hendrik Pierneef (1886-1957), was also well represented in this sale by a masterwork titled `Bosveld’ , a large 75 x 100cm (29 1/2 x 39 3/8in) oil on canvas, it was estimated to sell for £200,000-300,000 but made £714,400.

Irma Stern, `Still life of Gladioli on a draped table’, signed and dated 'Irma Stern 1949', an oil on canvas, estimated to sell for £400,000-600,000, sold for £535,200.

Alexis Preller. `Apollo Kouros 1’ estimated to sell for £80,000 to £120,000, sold for £252,000.

Irma Stern, `Still life with bignonia and Port St John's creeper’, signed and dated 'Irma Stern 1936', oil on canvas, estimated at £100,000-150,000, sold for £180,000.

A world record price was also achieved for Ruth Everard Haden’s `Serenitas fulgens’, an image of distant mountains laced by a winding road. It was estimated to sell for £30,000 to £50,000 but went for £144,000

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