The Expressionist Roots of South African Modernism

Authored by: Lisa Hörstmann

The Routledge Companion to Expressionism in a Transnational Context

Print publication date:  August  2018
Online publication date:  August  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138712553
eBook ISBN: 9781315200088
Adobe ISBN:


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South African modernism was greatly influenced by the expressionist painters Irma Stern (1894–1966) and Maggie Laubser (1886–1973). Born to immigrant families in South Africa, both studied and lived for a time in Germany, where the two women developed a new pictorial language that departed from the German expressionism and primitivism of artists such as Max Pechstein and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Upon their return to South Africa, in the early 1920s, they attempted to introduce this new mode of painting into the conservative South African art scene, but were met at first with almost complete rejection. Irma Stern, in particular, sedulously fought against the intractable resistance of her peers to new ideas and is now commonly considered the pioneer of South African modernism. Her paintings, which exoticized Southern Africa’s black population, paved the way for other modernists and especially women artists to establish themselves in the country’s art scene.

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