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.
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