Irma Stern sets new African Art auction record
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New African Auction Record: Irma Stern’s ‘Children Reading The Koran’ and the Growing Interest in African Traditional Art

The world of art has been shaken by a new African auction record, with a 1939 painting by the renowned South African modernist Irma Stern taking center stage. This fascinating piece, titled “Children Reading The Koran,” signifies the increasing appreciation for African Traditional Art, as well as the incredible talent that the continent has to offer.

The Record-Breaking Auction Sale

Strauss & Co, a prestigious auction house, recently sold Irma Stern’s “Children Reading The Koran” for an astounding $1.227 million. This artwork, inspired by Stern’s 1939 trip to Zanzibar, sets a new African auction record for artwork sold on the continent. The premier evening sale of modern and contemporary art, which took place in Cape Town, saw the record-breaking artwork being sold to a bidder present in the room.

Frank Kilbourn, the Chairperson of Strauss & Co, expressed his enthusiasm for the remarkable sale, stating, “It is an outstanding price for an African modernist at auction and underscores Strauss & Co’s place as a custodian of value for important moderns like Irma Stern.” This sale highlights the growing interest in African Traditional Art and the exceptional talent of African artists.

Irma Stern titled Children Reading The Koran
Redefining Portraiture: African Artists Pushing Boundaries | Irma Stern's titled Children Reading The Koran brokee Africa's auction record early this year - US$1.227 million

A Flourishing Market for South African Painters

The auction showcased strong demand for revered South African painters, with competitive bidding for significant works by Freida Lock, Hugo Naudé, JH Pierneef, Alexis Preller, Vladimir Tretchikoff, and Pieter Wenning. Kilbourn emphasized that South Africa remains the ideal marketplace to trade artworks by the country’s premium modernists.

The 110-lot evening sale, which marked the end of Strauss & Co’s multi-day sale of art, wine, and decorative arts, earned a staggering $3,872,400, boasting a lot sell-through rate of 71.82%. Bina Genovese, the managing executive of Strauss & Co, was delighted by the consistently animated bidding in their new saleroom, achieving robust prices for modernist paintings by Hugo Naudé, JH Pierneef, and Irma Stern. The contemporary offering also performed exceptionally well, with notable results for David Goldblatt, William Kentridge, Dylan Lewis, Sethembile Msezane, and a new record price for a painting by Ruby Swinney.

Irma Stern’s Lasting Impact on African Traditional Art

Children Reading The Koran is not the first time an Irma Stern painting has made headlines. Back in 2011, Strauss & Co sold Stern’s “Two Arabs,” also inspired by her 1939 Zanzibar trip, for $1.183 million. This record price has now been surpassed by the recent sale of “Children Reading The Koran” for $1.227 million.

Irma Stern’s artwork has become synonymous with African Traditional Art, and her pieces continue to captivate collectors and art enthusiasts alike. Her distinct style and unique perspective have left a lasting impact on the African art scene, and her work remains highly sought after in the market.

Explore More African Traditional Art

To discover more African Traditional Art, browse the MoMAA’s collection and learn about the Icons of African Art.
The Legacy of Irma Stern and the Future of African Traditional Art
The lasting impact of Irma Stern’s artwork on African Traditional Art is undeniable. Her ability to capture the essence of the African continent and its people, while integrating her European influences, has made her a significant figure in the art world.
As the demand for African Traditional Art continues to grow, so does the appreciation for the incredible talent that the continent has to offer. This renewed interest in African art has led to increased support for contemporary African artists, such as David Goldblatt, William Kentridge, Dylan Lewis, and Sethembile Msezane, who are now gaining international recognition.
Supporting and Collecting African Traditional Art
The new African auction record set by Irma Stern’s “Children Reading The Koran” emphasizes the importance of supporting and collecting African Traditional Art. By investing in and appreciating the work of African artists, both historical and contemporary, collectors and enthusiasts can help preserve and promote the rich cultural heritage of the continent.

The new African auction record set by Irma Stern’s “Children Reading The Koran” is a testament to the increasing interest in and appreciation for African Traditional Art. As collectors and art enthusiasts continue to recognize the exceptional talent and cultural significance of African artists, the market for African Traditional Art is poised for continued growth and success. By supporting African artists and investing in their work, we can contribute to the preservation and celebration of the rich and diverse artistic heritage of the African continent.

FAQ – New African Auction Record: Irma Stern’s ‘Children Reading The Koran’ and the Growing Interest in African Traditional Art

Why is Irma Stern so famous?

Irma Stern is famous for her unique and vibrant style, which often incorporated bold colors and expressive brushstrokes. She was a trailblazer in the world of African Traditional Art, and her work has continued to captivate collectors and art enthusiasts alike, gaining international recognition.
How much is an Irma Stern?
The value of an Irma Stern painting varies depending on factors such as the subject matter, size, condition, and provenance. As demonstrated by the recent sale of “Children Reading The Koran” for $1.227 million, Irma Stern’s artwork can fetch incredible prices at auction.
How many paintings did Irma Stern paint?
Over her illustrious career, Irma Stern is believed to have created around 1,000 paintings. Her work covers a wide range of subjects, including landscapes, still lifes, and portraits, often inspired by her travels throughout Africa and Europe.
What inspired Irma Stern?
Irma Stern was inspired by various sources throughout her life, including her travels to Europe and Africa. Stern was deeply influenced by her encounters with diverse cultures and people, which she translated into her artwork. Additionally, Stern was inspired by the German Expressionist movement and the works of European masters such as Vincent van Gogh and Henri Matisse.


Dr. Abigail Adeyemi, art historian, curator, and writer with over two decades of experience in the field of African and diasporic art. She holds a Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Oxford, where her research focused on contemporary African artists and their impact on the global art scene. Dr. Adeyemi has worked with various prestigious art institutions, including the Tate Modern and the National Museum of African Art, curating numerous exhibitions that showcase the diverse talents of African and diasporic artists. She has authored several books and articles on African art, shedding light on the rich artistic heritage of the continent and the challenges faced by contemporary African artists. Dr. Adeyemi's expertise and passion for African art make her an authoritative voice on the subject, and her work continues to inspire and inform both scholars and art enthusiasts alike.

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