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Irma Stern was a major South African artist who achieved national and international recognition in her lifetime. She was born in Schweitzer-Renecke, a small town in the Transvaal, of German-Jewish parents. Her father was interned in a concentration camp by the British during the South African War because of his pro-Boer leanings. Irma and her younger brother, Rudi, were thus taken to Cape Town by their mother. After the war, the family returned to Germany and constant travel. This travel would influence Irma's work.

In 1913, Irma Stern studied art in Germany at the Weimar Academy, in 1914 at the Levin-Funcke Studio and notably from 1917 with Max Pechstein, a founder of the Novembergruppe. Stern was associated with the German Expressionist painters of this period. She held her first exhibition in Berlin in 1919. In 1920 Stern returned to Cape Town with her family where she was first derided and dismissed as an artist before becoming an established artist by the 1940s.

In 1926 she married Dr Johannes Prinz her former tutor, who subsequently became professor of German at the University of Cape Town. They were divorced in 1934.

Irma Stern traveled extensively in Europe and explored Southern Africa, Zanzibar and the Congo region. These trips provided a wide range of subject matter for her paintings and gave her opportunities to acquire and assemble an eclectic collection of artifacts for her home. Stern was to travel extensively in her lifetime: in 1930 to Madeira, in 1937 and 1938 to Dakar, Senegal, 1939 Zanzibar, 1942 Congo, 1945 Zanzibar, 1946 Central Africa, 1952 Madeira, 1955 Congo, 1960 Spain and 1963 France. Stern traveled extensively in South Africa, for example in 1926 to Swaziland and Pondoland, in 1933 to Namaqualand, in 1936 generally, and in 1941 to the Eastern Cape. In 1931 she visited Madeira and Dakar, Senegal, in 1937 and 1938. 

Irma Stern refused to either travel or exhibit in Germany during the period 1933 - 1945. Instead, she undertook several journeys into Africa; going to Zanzibar twice in 1939 and 1945 and then planned three trips to the Congo region in 1942, 1946 and 1955. These expeditions resulted in a wealth of artistic creativity and energy as well as the publication of two illustrated journals; Congo published in 1943 and Zanzibar in 1948.

Almost one-hundred solo exhibitions were held during her lifetime both in South Africa and Europe including Germany, France, Italy and England. Although accepted in Europe, her work was unappreciated at first in South Africa where critics derided her early exhibitions of the 1920s with reviews such as one titled "Art of Miss Irma Stern - Ugliness as a Cult".

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.

Biography from the Archives of AskART



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

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


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


1919, 1923, 1927, 1932
Galerie Gurlitt, Berlin

1920, 1921, 1922, 1925, 1926, 1929
Ashbey’s Galleries, Cape Town

1925, 1927
Galerie Goldschmidt, Breslau

1925, 1929
Galerie Goldschmidt, Frankfurt

Levson Gallery, Johannesburg
Champion’s Art Gallery, Bloemfontein

Galerie le Triptyque, Paris

1927, 1929, 1932
Galerie Billiet-Vorms, Paris

Galerie Themis, Brussels

Galerie Nierendorff, Berlin
Kestner Gesellschaft. Hanover
Galerie Wurthle, Vienna

Galerie van Lier, Amsterdam

1930, 1932, 1935, 1937
Galerie Kleikamp, Den Haag

Foyles Gallery, London

1933, 1938
MacFadyen Hall, Pretoria

Lazard Galleries, Johannesbirg

Newlands House, Cape Town
University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch

1935, 1936
Selwyn Chambers, Cape Town
The Criterion, Johannesburg

1935, 1946
Durban Art Gallery, Durban

Cooling Galleries, London
Leger Gallery, London

1937, 1938
Martin Melck House, Cape Town

Sun Buildings, Cape Town
Transvaal Art Gallery, Johannesburg

1940, 1942, 1947, 1949, 1951, 1956
Gainsborough Gallery, Johannesburg

Argus Gallery, Cape Town

Musée Ethnographique, Elisabethville

Bothner’s Gallery, Johannesburg

Wildenstein, Paris

Kunst Kring, Rotterdam
Roland Browse & Delbanco, London
Van Eeckmann, Velp
Christie’s Gallery, Pretoria

1949-1955, 1957, 1958, 1961, 1963, 1964
South African Association of Arts Gallery, Cape Town

1953, 1965
Gallery Andre Weil, Paris

Van Schaik gallery, Pretoria

Galerie Wolfgang Gurlitt, Munich

Stadt Gallerie, Linz
Galerie Wassmuth, Berlin

Regency Gallery, Cape Town
Albini Gallery, Cape Town

Stadtische Gallerie, Salzburg
Staat Gallerie, Berlin

Fielding Gallery, Johannesburg

Lidchi Gallery, Cape Town

Walter Schwitter Gallery, Pretoria

Wolpe Gallery, Cape Town

Grosvenor Gallery, London

Rembrandt Art Centre, Johannesburg


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 travelled regularly between South Africa and Germany providing her with cosmopolitan background from early childhood; displayed drawing talent.

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

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

Included among the Neue-Sezession artists, Berlin.

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

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.

Irma Stern travelled and exhibited in South Africa, Germany and France.

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

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

Elected member of South African Society of Artists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Irma Stern awarded Cape Tercentenary Grant for outstanding work.

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

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

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

Awarded Medal of Honour for Painting by South African Akademie.

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.