The University of Cape Town and the Trustees of the Irma Stern Estate are privileged to house and exhibit a permanent collection of her work at the Irma Stern Museum, established in 1971. On display is also her valuable collection of artefacts.
Stern was born in 1894 to German Jewish parents at Schweizer-Reneke, a small town in the North West Province of South Africa. After the Anglo Boer War, she and her siblings went to Germany with their parents and began a pattern of regular travel which was to characterize and influence her development as an artist and individual, and continued throughout her adult life. Although the family returned to South Africa for intermittent periods while Irma was growing up, they spent the years of the First World War (1914-1918) in Germany.
Irma decided to become a painter and was supported in her decision by her parents. She studied in Berlin and Weimar and met the Expressionist Max Pechstein in 1916, who encouraged and influenced her work and helped her arrange her first exhibition in Berlin before she returned to South Africa with her family in 1920. Initially derided and dismissed in Cape Town, where conservative viewers misunderstood her work, Irma Stern remained devoted to her vocation and was regarded as an established artist by the 1940s. She travelled extensively in Europe and explored southern Africa, Zanzibar and the Congo. These trips provided a wide range of subject matter for her paintings and gave her opportunities to acquire and assemble an eclectic collection of artefacts for her home.
She journeyed to Swaziland and Natal in particular during the 1920s, producing two of her seminal works - Umgababa and The Hunt - both of which can be viewed at the Museum.
Irma Stern refused to either travel or exhibit in Germany during the period 1933 - 1945. Instead, she undertook several journeys into Africa; twice to Zanzibar, in 1939 and 1945, and then three trips to the Congo 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.
In 1927, a house - "The Firs" - in Cecil Road, Rosebank, was bought for her by her parents and remained her home until her death in 1966.
This house became the Irma Stern Museum in 1971. Three of the rooms are furnished as she arranged them; the sitting room, dining room and studio all showcase her unique style and eclectic taste as a collector. The home created by Irma is full of artefacts she collected on her numerous trips to Europe and various journeys in Africa. The highlight of the African collection is the Buli stool, possibly acquired by the artist before 1935. Experts agree that a master craftsman in the Congo, known as the Master of Buli, probably carved it in the early 20th century. Go to the Irma Stern Museum website.