Irma Stern's Malay Bride makes $1.9m among South African art

Irma stern's Malay Bride (1942) was the top lot of Bonhams' South African sale on October 2 achieving £1.2m ($1.9m). The artist held the top three spots at the auction, cementing her reputation as one of South Africa's most popular painters.

The work was produced in the 1940s and shows a member of Cape Town's Malay community in a wedding headdress.

Malay Bride Stern
The Malay Bride grew out of Stern's fascination with Islam

Giles Peppiatt, director of South African art at Bonhams, commented before the auction: ''The Malay Bride is something of a mystery.

"The face and clothes provide clues as to who she might be — a bride, beautiful and dignified, ceremoniously formal — but her character is cloaked in vivid colours, textures, and sketchy brushwork. Therein lies her charm."

Still Life with Amaryllis (1940), another Stern painting, made £326,500 ($529,786). The artist was known for her vibrant and sensual still-life painting, often described as among the best modern examples of the genre.

Malay Girl with Fruit (1949) features a simple but sophisticated use of bold and vibrant blocks of colour, and the piece dates to an era that many consider the high point of Stern's artistic output. It made £182,500 ($296,105).

Other artists that performed well at the auction included Jacob Hendrik Pierneef, one of South Africa's best loved landscape painters, whose Wheatfields Near Stellenbosch, painted circa 1925-1936, achieved £86,500 ($140,331).

Gerard Seketo's Girl with Guitar, painted during a period of exile in Paris, achieved an identical price.

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