Rebecca Hourwich Reyher was an American writer, suffragist and feminist activist who met Stern in Cape Town in 1924 and became one of her earliest champions. Stern asked her to open her Cape Town exhibition in February 1925, on the eve of Reyher's return to New York. The present picture is one of the twenty works Stern shipped out with Reyher to New York, all from the 1925 show, hoping the writer might show and promote her work in America. Reyher's Sterns, all from the second Ashbey's exhibition in 1925, afford a snapshot of Stern in the early to mid-1920s, when she is in her first flourish of work back home on African soil, just as her own voice begins to emerge. Working in the Cape, Natal and Swaziland, Stern is painting sensual and richly coloured African subjects, specifically, as here, the women of the Cape Malay district, the flower sellers on the Parade Ground, and the flowers themselves.
This portrait is probably 'Lena' as mentioned in the Cape Argus review (and as titled on Stern's list of pictures sent to America with Reyher in March): 'Yet one returns again and again to the portraits and native studies. Many will recognise Moscovitch in "The Actor" (14), and there is another portrait "Venetian" (6), which to me carries a face that bears all the terrible impress of a brutal civilisation. What a singular contrast to turn to the subtly attractive face of the native girl, "Lena" (7) ...' Cape Argus, 17 Feb. 1925 'The Modernism of Irma Stern, South African Artist Challenges Attention'.