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Striking Stern painting steals spotlight

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The painting Watussi Chief’s Wife, a striking portrait by the acclaimed SA artist Irma Stern, sold for £447000 (close to R9million) at Bonhams Modern & Contemporary African Art sale in London on March 25.

The sale made a total of £1.7m, and also established new world record prices on auction for eight artists.

Bonhams director Giles Peppiatt said: “Watussi Chief’s Wife is a wonderful and moving work that reflects Irma Stern’s respect for a sitter whose innate nobility the artist clearly deeply admired. The bidding and the final price reflected its importance. I was pleased that under such difficult circumstances globally, we were able to hold such a successful sale.”

Stern (1894-1966), who lived in Cape Town for most of her life, painted Watussi Chief’s Wife in 1946 in what was then the Belgian Congo. The sitter was a member of the royal court of the Rwandan King Yuhi V Musinga who was deposed by the Belgians in 1931, and exiled to Moba near Albertville. The artist has depicted her wearing a traditional Rwandan dress.

Another Stern work, Still life of roses and earthenware, sold for £87000.

Other auction highlights included:

* An extremely rare archive of images taken from the photographic studio of ZJS Ndimande and Sons in Greytown during the apartheid era, sold for £40000.

* Still life by Demas Nwoko (Nigerian, born 1935): £187000.

* Ogolo by Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu (Nigerian, 1917-1994): £87000.

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