Irma Stern's Zanzibar Woman to auction with $2.5m estimate

Irma Stern's Zanzibar Woman (1939) will lead a sale of South African art at Bonhams London on March 19 with a £1m-1.5m ($1.7m-2.5m) estimate.

The work dates to the late 1930s, a time when Stern was at the height of her creative powers, and is one of a number of portraits she painted of Malay and Arab people.

Irma Stern Zanzibar Woman
Irma Stern's Zanzibar Woman is a significant work from her most celebrated period

She travelled extensively in Africa during this period, producing a significant body of work that fully displays the vibrancy of the cultures she came into contact with.

It has been posited that this interest in other cultures was strengthened by her disgust at the violence raging in the West.

She had studied in Germany in 1913 and left in 1920. From 1933 onwards, the year the Nazis took power, she refused to exhibit there.

Swazi Youth, a painting from 1929, is valued at £300,000-500,000 ($500,000-840,000).

During the late 1920s, Stern was beginning to develop her own take on expressionism, a movement she had come into contact with in Germany and with which she had close ties.

The piece stands as a bridge between her past and future work, linking the artist's representational style with her origins in abstraction.  

In recent years Stern's work has grown significantly in popularity. A recent sale saw Composition (1923) achieve $980,307 in Capetown.

Her record stands at $4.8m, set for Arab Priest in 2011 - a work that also holds the record for the most valuable work by a South African artist.

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