All Columns in Alphabetical Order

Monday, September 9, 2013


Bonhams October 2nd South African sale at New Bond Street will feature a significant work by Irma Stern, ‘The Malay Bride’. The painting will be on offer alongside a variety of excellent examples of the artist’s works, and is estimated to sell at a value of £1,000,000 to £1,500,000.

‘The Malay Bride’ is an example of Stern’s furious outburst of painting in the 1940s. Disillusioned with the war in the West, Stern looked for an exciting alternative in the exoticism and Otherness of the East. The collection of sensuous portraits and sumptuous still lives on sale at Bonhams this October reveals her South African influences. The vibrant cultural and religious life of the Malay community in Cape Town was everything she was looking for.

Stern was also attracted by the splendour of Muslim women in their finery and ornate dress, and she tried to replicate this in her painting. ‘The Malay Bride’ is perfectly regal. Though the bride’s attire isn’t overly elaborate, adhering to religious codes, flecks of gold highlight the ‘medora’ that covers her hair, and white checks stamp the front of her robe. Stern infuses the scene with a further sense of majesty through the use of glowing golden tones.

Giles Peppiatt, Director of South African art at Bonhams, comments: ‘‘The Malay Bride’ is something of a mystery. The face and clothes provide clues as to who she might be—a bride, beautiful and dignified, ceremoniously formal—but her character is cloaked in vivid colours, textures, and sketchy brushwork. Therein lies her charm.’

What’s clear is the way that this compelling image, signed and indistinctly dated and enclosed within its original richly ornamented Zanzibar frame, speaks of both the culture that it represents and the artist who created it. ‘The Malay Bride’ is not your typical blushing bride: She’s one of Stern’s great masterpieces, and all eyes will be on her at the upcoming auction.


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to Prior to sale there are several days of viewing which collectors and the general public are welcome to attend.

Back to TOP