Irma Stern refused to travel to Germany at the height of the Nazi oppression. The South African – German artist instead opted to explore the unblemished African beauty. Stern had a picture of Africa as a fantasy of unspoiled nature, which she referred to as the ‘soul of Africa’. She commented that personal contact provided that insight into the ‘rich soul’ of the land, something she tried to portray in her pictures of South Africa.
As time went by and colonial South Africa was in ‘full bloom’ Irma Stern mentioned the change in certain aspects of native life which she ascribed to the European rulers leaving their heavy footprint on the people of Africa. She had a lofty picture of ‘unspoiled Africa’ and it seemed like her subject matter was being ruined in this way. As a result she started looking north, towards Zanzibar and Congo for the kind of landscapes she was after.
This would be the start of her travels as an accomplished artist, travels to Central Africa, Madeira, Spain and France would follow during the 50s and 60s. She passed away in 1966, an artist who managed to change a conservative South African audience to a more open minded and accepting group.
Her home in Rondebosch was turned into a museum and opened its doors in 1971. The artist herself stayed in that house for close to 30 years, some of the rooms still looking exactly like it did in her time. Stern’s art broke several records, the latest being when once of her painting sold for R 34 million in London.
The Irma Stern Museum was established in 1971 and is the house the artist lived in for almost four decades. She moved into The Firs in Rondebosch in 1927 and lived there until her death. Several of the rooms are furnished as she arranged them while upstairs there is a commercial gallery used by contemporary South African artists.