In a long list of exceptional South African artists , Irma Stern certainly ranks as one of the best and most well-known. She achieved various national and international accolades during her career. As one scans her biography, you might be surprised to find Schwiezer-Reneke listed as her place of birth; possibly wondering what this little town did right to produce an artist of her calibre. As if the name doesn’t give itself away, we know that the town was named after Captain Schweizer and field-cornet Reneke.
Born on 2 October 1894 in this newly formed town, Irma Stern was of German Jewish descent. The turn of the century proved to be tumultuous one for large parts of the ‘republic’. The outbreak of the Boer War brought the British to this little town. In 1900 Irma’s father and uncle were detained by the British. Her entire family headed for their homeland as soon as they were reunited.
Despite to and fro travelling, Stern stayed in Germany for the biggest part of her childhood. During the 1920s she had grown into a young adult and left Germany soon after World War I. After her arrival in South Africa she was identified as a German expressionist, something she continued to blend into the very traditional South African mould. Stern would spend a lot of time travelling through parts of Africa – an increasingly common occurrence for artists like her.
She used the places she visited and people she met as objects for inspiration. A captivating career followed – even causing some controversy with her modern style when she started exhibiting in South Africa.
(photo credit: artthrob.co.za)