Irma Stern

Born: 1894, Schweizer-Reneke, Transvaal.

Died: 1966, Cape Town, South Africa

Irma Stern was born in Schweizer Renecke. Daughter of wealthy German-Jewish immigrants. Her father was imprisoned by the British during the Anglo-Boer from 1899 till 1903. In that time she went with her mother to Berlin where she began her schooling. As a family they regularly traveled between South Africa and Germany.

In 1913 Irma studied art at the Weimer Academy and in 1914 she studied at Studio Levin-Funcke under Martin Brandenburg . In 1919 she returned to South Africa permanently where she held her first exhibition at Ashbey’s Art Gallery in Cape Town. From 1922 till 1926 Irma traveled and exhibited in South Africa, Germany and France. In 1939 she visited Zanzibar for the first time. That year she also painted numerous Malay subjects in Cape Town.

In 1942 she had an expedition to the Congo and in 1943 she published “Congo”, a collection of drawings and paintings with accompanying text. In 1945 she had a return visit to Zanzibar where it is believed that this was the climax in her career. After contracting Malaria in 1946 she traveled less and mainly stayed in South Africa, winning numerous awards. In 1966 plans were made for a major exhibition at the Grosvener Gallery in London. Unfortunately she passed away 2 months before her 72nd birthday and the exhibition was mounted posthumously in 1967.


- 1913 Irma Stern studied art at the Weimar Academy under Martin Brandenburg.

- 1914 Studied art at Studio Levin-Funcke under Martin Brandenburg; later returned to Weimar to work among early Bauhaus painters.


- Daughter of a wealthy German-Jewish immigrant.

- 1899 to 1903 Irma Stern's father was imprisoned by the British during the Anglo-Boer War; she went with her mother to Berlin where she began her schooling; the family traveled regularly between South Africa and Germany providing her with cosmopolitan background from early childhood; displayed drawing talent.

- 1910 Back in Berlin to study; the family remained there during WW1; began art training.

- 1916 Irma Stern met Max Pechstein who encouraged her and influenced her painting; became foundation member of the 'November Group'.

- 1918 to 1919 Included among the Neue-Sezession artists, Berlin.

- 1919 Pechstein helped to arrange Irma Stern's first one-man art exhibition in Berlin, returned to South Africa.

- 1920 Her first South African art exhibition at Ashbeys Art Gallery, Cape Town - police were called in to investigate charges of immorality; first of 63 art exhibitions in South Africa during her lifetime; it established a pattern of critical public reaction which was slow to change but it brought viewers flocking then and onwards.

- 1922 to 1926 Irma Stern traveled and exhibited in South Africa, Germany and France.

- 1927 Won Prix d'Honneur at Bordeaux International Exhibition; subject of a monograph 'Irma Stern' by Max Osborn;

- 1929 Professor John Wheatly, sole selector for the South African entry to that years Imperial Institute Exhibition in London, chose Irma Stern to represent South Africa.

- 1931 Elected member of South African Society of Artists.

- 1935 to 1940 High point in her paintings and drawings of tribal life in South Africa, began to experiment with sculpture; many guache studies.

- 1939 Irma Stern's first visit to Zanzibar; confined by WW2 to Africa; painted numerous Malay subjects in Cape Town.

- 1942 Expedition to the Congo, exhibited in Elizabethville; subject of monograph by Joseph Sachs 'Irma Stern and the Spirit of Africa'.

- 1943 Irma Stern published 'Congo' - collection of drawings and paintings with accompanying text.

- 1945 Return-visit to Zanzibar, possibly the climax of Irma Stern's career when all elements of her styled fused into a mature reposeful whole.

- 1946 Irma Stern contracted Malaria at Lake Kivu; thereafter she traveled less in Africa but found fresh inspiration in the fishing villages of Spain and Madeira.

- 1947 First of two films on her work by South African Department of Information.

- 1948 Published 'Zanzibar'; member of International Art Club, South Africa; her reputation in South Africa was by now less controversial; Irma Stern was included on all major national art exhibitions from 1948 onwards.

- 1952 Irma Stern awarded Cape Tercentenary Grant for outstanding work.

- 1954 During a visit to Johannesburg delivered to the Goodwill Club the second of the only two public talks she ever made.

- 1960 Irma Stern won the Regional Award of the Peggy Gugenheim International Art Prize.

- 1963 Won Oppenheimer Award on 'Art-South-Africa-Today'.

- 1965 Awarded Medal of Honour for Painting by South African Akademie.

- 1966 Plans were made for a major retrospective art exhibition of her work at the Grosvenor Gallery, London when she died two months before her 72nd birthday; the exhibition was mounted posthumously in 1967.


- 1919 First of over 100 one-man art exhibitions in Europe, USA and South Africa.

- 1920 First of 63 South African one-man exhibitions, Cape Town.

- 1929 International Jewish Art Exhibition, Zurich.

- 1936 Empire Exhibition, Johannesburg.

- 1948 'Overseas Exhibition of South African Art' Tate Gallery.

- 1950 Venice Biennale.

- 1952 Rhodes Centenary Exhibition, Bulawayo.

- 1954 Venice Biennale.

- 1956 First Quad of South African Art.

- 1957 Sao Paulo Biennale.

- 1958 Second Quad of South African Art; South African Graphic Art, Yugoslavia.

- 1961 Sao Paulo Biennale (graphic).

- 1966 Republic Fest Exhibition, Pretoria.

- 1967 Memorial Exhibition 'Irma Stern - Paintings of Europe and the African Continent 1914-1965' Grosvenor Art Gallery, London.

- 1968 Memorial Art Exhibition 'Homage to Irma Stern' mounted by Rembrandt Art Foundation at the Rembrandt Art Centre, Johannesburg and Pretoria Art Museum.

Public Collections

South African National Art Gallery; Johannesburg Art Gallery; Pretoria Art Museum; William Humphreys Art gallery; King George VI Art Gallery; Ann Bryant Art Gallery, Hester Rupert Art Museum; UCT; Rembrandt Foundation; University if Wits Art Gallery; Irma Stern Museum.

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