'Milestone' for South African art as Irma Stern brings $3.8m Word Record price

An arresting image from Irma Stern's time in Zanzibar attracted sustained bidding at Bonhams in London, yesterday (October 27).

The piece achieved a staggering price of £2.4m (R26.42m or $3.8m), double the previous record for a piece of Sought African art (R13m). Overall, the auction of 151 pictures and sculptures made a total of £6m.

Stern is said to have been powerfully affected by the beauty of local Indian women while painting 'Bahora girl', an enchanting image of a Zanzibari beauty dating from 1945. The oil on canvas sold with its original Zanzibar frame, which added to the interest.

According to Giles Peppiatt, Head of South African Art at Bonhams, the sale: "demonstrated the growing interest in South African art and the wisdom of selling in London to an international audience."

Irma Stern's World Record priced 'Bahora girl' from 1945

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

Before the sale, Bonhams said that it believed this painting - estimated at £600,000 to £900,000 - could set a new World Record auction price for a piece of South African art "if current trends continued."

In the end, the painting surpassed expectations and makes history for South African art which, in the words of Bonhams, "can be said to have truly come of age in London." Yesterday's result of £2.4m (R26.42m) for the delicately featured Bahora Girl will have the art world taking a fresh look at art out of Africa.

"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," said Hannah O'Leary, a specialist in the South African art department.

"[This] sale marks a massive milestone in that journey of recognition."

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela's The Guard Tower sold for £4,800 ($7,567)

Yet controversy also greeted Bonhams auction, when former South African president Nelson Mandela - or rather his lawyer - objected to the inclusion of some artworks in the sale.

Auctioning alongside Irma Stern's 'Bahora girl' were a couple of prints believed to be by Mandela himself. Despite his apparent objections, both pieces went under the hammer with one, The Guard Tower, eventually selling for £4,800 ($7,567).

The work auctioned with lithographs of a photograph of the guard tower and "a handwritten motivation by Nelson Mandela."


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