Irma Stern’s “Arab With Dagger” to Lead Bonhams African Art Sale

arab with dagger

Courtesy of Bonhams

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Painting by South African artist Irma Stern arab with dagger, 1945, will lead Bonhams’ sale of modern and contemporary African art in London on March 17, valued at between £ 700,000 (US $ 960,000) and £ 1 million.

Stern (1894-1966), who traveled extensively in Europe and Africa, took a particular interest in the Arab community of Zanzibar during her two trips in 1939 and 1945. She was fascinated by the older men on the face from whom she saw “depths of suffering, wisdom and full understanding of all the pleasures of life – living faces with the experiences of life.

These two visits inspired Stern to create several key works. Another painting, Arab priest, also premiered in 1945, sold at Bonhams London in 2011 for £ 3million, which remains the artist’s auction record. The painting was acquired by the Qatar Museums Authority as part of the collection of the Orientalist Museum in Doha.

Arab with dagger is remarkable work and shows Irma Stern at her best, ”said Giles Peppiatt, Bonhams director for African art, in a statement. “Like many of her portraits from this period, it expresses not only an individual likeness, but also the fatalism and deep spirituality that the artist found among the Arab people, and that she admired so much.”

The painting is framed in wood carved from Arabic doors, which has been skillfully converted into frames to escape an export ban on highly distinctive doors, according to Bonhams.

Stern’s paintings have been under the radar of modern and contemporary African art collectors. His 1959 work, Grape packer, sold at a Sotheby’s online auction in March 2020 for £ 435,000.

Laura J. Boyer