Irma Stern was born in 1894, in the small South African town of Schwiezer-Reneke. In 1917, she studied with Max Pechstein. She was associated with the German Expressionist during this period. She held her first exhibition in Berlin in 1919 and really became established by 1940. Her first show in South Africa, in 1922, was startling to viewers because of her clearly modern style. She was given close to 100 solo exhibitions throughout the world during her lifetime.
She traveled all her life, both as a child with family and as an adult. These trips gave endless inspiration for subject matter. Her method of working was very intense. She did not want to be disturbed while painting. Stern would study her portrait sitters carefully and then would change her perspective by looking at them with half closed eyes. She often completed paintings in one sitting. Strong black coffee kept her going.
She is known for her strong and emotional use of color and her idealization of subjects inspired by Africa. She died in 1966 and has since been referred to as the Grande Dame of South African painting. The Irma Stern Museum was established in 1971 in the house she lived in for almost 40 years. She holds a strong place in modern South African art history. Her work can be found in galleries and public collections around the world.