THE DINING ROOM OF IRMA STERN
23 March – 22 August 2021
Various newspaper and magazine articles describe Irma Stern (1894–1966), beloved South African artist, as an entertainer and as a collector. It is these aspects of the artist’s life that the Rupert Museum, in collaboration with the Irma Stern Museum and the Irma Stern Trust, takes honour in celebrating with the latest addition to the exhibition Nature Morte – A Still from Life. The installation recreates the dining room from the artist’s home, The Firs, with original furniture pieces, objects, artefacts and artworks sourced from the collections of the Irma Stern Museum, Irma Stern Trust and Rupert Art Foundation.
As a collector, Stern was fascinated by artefacts, objects and icons with a religious theme, marking her interest in the aesthetics of these pieces. Her dining room over the years was the setting for her vast collection, which amongst other items included Spanish carvings, 17th and 18th-century Russian icons, Pietà sculptures and a marble baptismal font. This fascination was also explored through a number of paintings in which Stern, a non-practicing Jew, drew on biblical themes.
A selection of eight religious themed pieces both paintings and ceramics by Stern dated between 1938 – 1952 are featured. The works at first glance is not recognized as done by Stern, it depicts angels, saints, apostles, the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, all popular themes and scenes exploring spiritual symbolism but contrasting the most known Stern genres of still lifes, portraits and scenes. Her rich appetite for traveling, enabled her to collect vastly from the countries and places visited. Taking pieces home to adorn The Firs’ walls and personally framing her works with carved wood pieces, these works mostly form part of the artist’s Zanzibar-period (late 1930s to mid-1940s).
A study of the few archival photographs available reveals that Stern’s decorative choices for her dining room were much simpler and plainer in comparison with the rest of The Firs’ living areas. In later years, from the 1980s, the Irma Stern Museum depicted various interpretations and incorporated concepts of both simplicity, more as a period room, and grandeur, very much inspired by its owner’s extravagant personality and presence. The recreated dining room takes the visitor back to the mid-1950s, to a setting from which the artist would have lived and entertained. It features white-painted walls, an abundance of dark wood, golden reflections from icons and carvings, ‘recently’ painted and sentimental paintings suspended from the picture rails and an 18th-century refectory table with a fresh bouquet of flowers ready to host a party of up to 21 people.
The still lifes painted by Stern give both insight and greater perspective into the artist, as the inanimate objects – vases, textiles, carved sculptures ‒ form part of a collection documenting her travels, interests and habits as an artist and collector. While compositions with such a variety of objects all from different geographical and historical provenance create a complex narrative, they can also be enjoyed purely for their aesthetic value. Seasonal flowers give a sense of time and are the perfect subject for Stern to apply her iconic, luscious, expressive brushstrokes to the array of colours true to her palette. A selection of still life paintings from the Rupert Art Foundation collection are featured with the actual vases depicted.
It is known that the Rupert Museum’s founder Mrs Huberte Rupert would frequently visit Stern at The Firs during the 1960s to view firsthand the latest and in progress work by the artist. Visits like these resulted in purchases, probably the most important personal sale of all – The Eternal child (1916) acquired in 1965. It forms part of the 57 items, inclusive of paintings, drawings, ceramics, bronzes and rare books in the Rupert Art Foundation collection.
For upcoming events in celebration of the artist, keep an eye on the WHATS ON section on www.rupertmuseum.org as more details will be announced soon.
Upcoming Event: Friday, 11 June 2021 – Stern inspired dinner
Saturday, 31 July 2021 – Exhibition walkabouts & Stern inspired menu at the Rupert Museum café for Museum Saturday
Saturday, 14 August 2021 – Panel discussion on Stern
(more details on www.rupertmuseum.org)