Live Virtual Auction, 17 - 18 May 2021

Sold for

ZAR 569 000
Lot 138
  • Penny Siopis; Birthday Cake
  • Penny Siopis; Birthday Cake
  • Penny Siopis; Birthday Cake
  • Penny Siopis; Birthday Cake
  • Penny Siopis; Birthday Cake
  • Penny Siopis; Birthday Cake
  • Penny Siopis; Birthday Cake

Lot Estimate
ZAR 550 000 - 650 000
Selling Price
Incl. Buyer's Premium and VAT
ZAR 569 000

About this Item

South African 1953-
Birthday Cake
oil on canvas
121 by 152,5cm excluding frame; 141 by 172 by 7cm including frame


A wonderful celebration of a painted surface, a coming together of friends and a nod to the artist’s trip to Italy, the present lot conjures a thickly iced layering of thoughts and memories. The actual cake represented in the painting was baked by fellow artists Bronwen Findlay, Clive van den Berg and Fiona Rankin Smith while Siopis and her friends were living in Durban, where she taught fine art at Technikon Natal. The cake celebrated Siopis’s birthday, and her friends decorated it in the style of the paintings she started working on shortly after taking up her lectureship. Siopis produced a series of still lifes centred around cakes and baked goods a link to the profession of her parents who were bakers. Siopis first exhibited works from her cake painting series in 1982 at the NSA Gallery, Durban. That same year two ca k e paintings were selected for the Cape Town Triennial. The present lot was exhibited at the Market Theatre Galleries in 1983; the following year she joined the fine art department at Wits University.

Birthday Cake is layered with pastel toned oil paint that has been squeezed out of piping bags, similar to the way in which one would ice a cake, giving the overall effect of an oozing, dense surface building up with different textures. Surrounding the cake and suspended from large arches of thin wire, paper angels swoop and flutter. Van den Berg recalls that the angels, so loved by Siopis and himself, are from Giotto’s frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy. These particular angels appear in Giotto’s Lamentation (The Mourning of painted in around 1305. Rankin Smith notes that they loved the particular angels painted by Giotto and the sense of hysteria or euphoria of their flapping wings, thinking they would be a perfect addition to the glorious cake. She remembered that as Siopis painted the cake, she occasionally spooned away from it at the back, so that the front could still be used to paint from.

Drawing on her interest in the traditions of oil painting and feminist theory, Siopis’s cake paintings depict attractive confections that nonetheless invoke ideas to do with the human body. Oil painting is traditionally associated with picturing flesh especially female flesh and beauty, Siopis has said.1 Her thickly painted surfaces take on bodily functions: they form skins that age and decay like a real body. After making the cake paintings, Siopis continued to create images of abundance and explored ideas of excess, leading to a series of still lifes that included Melancholia and Patience on a Monument often dealing with critical issues in South Africa and histories of colonisation, oppression and exploitation.

1. Penny Siopis (2014) Time and Again, Johannesburg: Wits Press, page 53.


Acquired by the previous owner from the exhibition Penny Siopis: Recent Work, Market Theatre Gallery, Johannesburg, 1983.

Private Collection, Johannesburg.


Market Theatre Gallery, Johannesburg, Penny Siopis: Recent Work, 1983.

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