It was around this time that Stern’s companion Dudley Welch converted to Roman Catholicism. He moved into The Firs in 1944, the same year in which the present lot was painted, and in her letters she would comment 'Dudley is well and absolutely Catholic – you would not know him anymore – so good and holy!' and 'Dudley is more and more Catholic – he goes to church twice a day now. It drives me silly – this new development of his' (Mona Berman, Remembering Irma, Cape Town, 2003, p.134-135). No doubt they discussed faith and doctrine at home, but while Stern was tolerant of all religions, there is no evidence that she ever seriously considered converting.
She was a passionate collector of objets d’art, including Christian, Chinese and classical African art, and the small wooden Pietà sculpture depicted here can still be found in the collection of the Irma Stern Museum. While she used the Pietà as a more abstract theme and device in other works, here the depiction is more literal, with the sculpture forming the centrepiece for one of her celebrated still lifes. By its inclusion she adds a sense of pathos and gravitas to the composition, elevating it from simply a decorative flower painting:
'Pietà is an interesting dialogue between nature and art. The painting features a small wooden carving of Mary mourning the dead Christ. Probably originating from northern Germany, and possibly dating from the sixteenth century, this painted carving of death and grief is overwhelmed by a vase of gladioli. The flowers are not life-affirming; the support the theme of death in their predominantly blood red colouring and drooping rhythms. Like Christ, their life has been abruptly terminated' (Marion Arnold, Irma Stern: A feast for the Eye, Vlaeberg, 1995, p.144).
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