Five weeks before SA’s first democratic elections‚ Count Natale Labia went to an auction in Cape Town and came home with an Irma Stern under his arm. The painting “Dahlias” cost the Italian-South African nobleman R187‚000. When it goes under the hammer later this month‚ it is expected to fetch between R8m and R12m. “Dahlias” (1947) is one of 22 paintings from Labia’s collection, which will go under the hammer on October 15 following the count’s death in 2016. Bina Genovese‚ joint MD of auctioneer Strauss & Co‚ said Stern produced five still lifes featuring dahlias in the 1930s and 1940s‚ and this was the last. In the book “Irma Stern: A Feast for the Eye” in 1995‚ Marion Arnold described the 96cm x 84cm oil painting as an “exuberant composition” that burst “beyond the confines of the frame”. After buying “Dahlias”‚ Labia hung it at his home in Wynberg‚ Hawthornden House — and Genovese said the fact that it had been owned by someone with such “judicious” taste added to its provenance...

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