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Details & Cataloguing

Modern and Contemporary African Art

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Irma Stern
1894 - 1966
STELLA, LADY BAILEY
signed and dated 1944 (upper right)
oil on canvas laid to board
64 by 77cm., 25¼ by 30¼in.
Painted in 1944
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Provenance

Die Kunskamer, Cape Town
Private Collection

Catalogue Note

Stella Mary Chiappini was born in 1904 to government official Charles du Plessis Chiappini and his wife Susan Margarite (née Klerck). The Chiappinis were a prominent family in Cape Town; her great-great-grandfather Anthonio was a Florentine merchant who settled in the Cape Colony in 1807. As a young woman Stella was a friend and confidant to Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, whose husband was Governor-General of the Union of South Africa (1924-1931). Princess Alice’s biographer describes Stella as 'lively and lovely' and 'a member of Cape Town's young "Government House set"' (Theo Aronson, Princess Alice: Countess of Athlone, London, 1981, p.140-141).

Stella worked at the Argus Gallery on Burg Street, Cape Town, where Irma Stern exhibited annually from 1941-1949. Irma and Stella worked closely together, with the artist visiting the gallery daily in the run up to her exhibitions, often bringing lunch and holding court as if she was in her own dining room at the Firs. By 1944, the year in which the present lot was painted, the two women would have known each other well.

This elegant portrait, a Cape Town subject painted in her Cape Town studio, nonetheless speaks of the artist’s love of travel and her longing for Europe and her beloved Spain. Stern’s European travels had been curtailed by war, and she had not visited the continent since 1937. We can include Stella with a small series Stern completed in the early 1940s of portraits of complex women in traditional Spanish dress, such as Portrait of Mary Cramer (Irma Stern: Expressions of a Journey, Standard Bank exh. cat., Johannesburg, 2003, illustrated p.81), and Argentinian woman (Irma Stern Trust Collection, accession no. 12). Stern has clothed her model in a black lace mantilla and gauzy textures, which provide a striking contrast with the sitter’s alabaster skin, and evokes the Spanish Master Francisco Goya’s portraits of the Duchess of Alba (New York Hispanic Society), Antonia Zárate (National Gallery of Ireland) and Doña Isabel de Porcel (National Gallery, London).

The following year Stella became Lady Bailey when she married Sir John Milner Bailey, 2nd Bt. on 4th May. Sir John was the eldest son of Col. Sir Abe Bailey, 1st Bt., (1864–1940), Randlord and art collector, whose bequest to the South African National Gallery numbered over 400 works. The marriage was cut short when Sir John passed away just nine months later, on 13 February 1946. Stella, Lady Bailey, never remarried. She remained a patron of the arts well into her 80s.

Modern and Contemporary African Art

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London