Modern and Contemporary African Art Online

Modern and Contemporary African Art Online

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 85.  IRMA STERN | GRAPE PACKER.


Lot Closed

March 31, 02:21 PM GMT


350,000 - 550,000 GBP

Lot Details



South African



signed and dated 1959 (lower left); signed and titled (on the reverse)

oil on canvas

87 by 69cm., 34¼ by 27¼in.

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Christie's, London, Travel & Exploration, 18 April 2000, Lot 92, titled Grape Packers 

Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

Jewish Affairs, Journal, South Africa, June 1959, illustrated in black and white

Irma Stern Scrapbooks (3 vol unpublished), the National Library of South Africa, illustrated and annotated ‘Grape Picker 1959’

Grape Packer is another important example of Stern’s mature works from the 1950s and early 60s and her increasing focus on labourers as subjects – orange pickers in Spain, fishermen in urban Cape Town, and here the grape pickers and packers in the Cape Winelands. Stern did not travel out of South Africa in 1959 and, as seen in View Across Vineyard, we know that she would decamp to the winelands east of Cape Town to escape the city and for new inspiration. Indeed perhaps her largest work, the monumental Harvest, or Farm Workers in the Vineyard, tackles a similar subject and hangs in the KWV (Ko-operatiewe Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika) Art Gallery in Paarl.

Figure with bunch of grapes, a gouache in the collection of the Irma Stern Trust (accession no.1068), may well be an early preparatory study for Grape Packer. Both works depict a woman in pink dress and a white headscarf holding a bunch of grapes in both hands, her face turned to the left in side profile, her eyes downcast, focusing on the work at hand. The woman’s gaze is averted from the viewer, as is usual in Stern’s portraiture and figurative painting. Yet Stern has made some significant changes that make the finished painting far more interesting. The grape packer is now more youthful and graceful, and has her baby tied to her back. The infant looks directly at us, in a somewhat playful manner. Stern rarely painted children. After her divorce in 1934, she remained unmarried for the rest of her life and never had children of her own. Her looks and weight were often derided in the press. It is possible that at this stage in her life, as she turned 60 and her health began to fail, she was particularly drawn to such timeless figures of youth and fertility.