Live Virtual Auction, 5 - 6 April 2022

Sold for

ZAR 1 138 000
Lot 400
  • Penny Siopis; Act I Scene II
  • Penny Siopis; Act I Scene II
  • Penny Siopis; Act I Scene II
  • Penny Siopis; Act I Scene II
  • Penny Siopis; Act I Scene II
  • Penny Siopis; Act I Scene II

Lot Estimate
ZAR 1 000 000 - 1 500 000
Selling Price
Incl. Buyer's Premium and VAT
ZAR 1 138 000

About this Item

South African 1953-
Act I Scene II
oil on canvas
120 by 120cm excluding frame; 130 by 127 by 3cm including frame


The artist was the 1984 winner of Absa l’Atelier Art Competition, stayed at the Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris.

In 1984 Penny Siopis took up a lectureship at Wits University where she began work on a new suite of paintings informed by history painting and the Dutch ’vanitas’ still lifes, two stylised genres from the seventeenth century. Growing out of her earlier ‘cake paintings’, which introduced the artist’s use of distorted perspective and impasto surface treatment, Siopis’s new works portrayed grand dining halls with tables overloaded with fruit, confections, flowers, statuettes and other bric-a-brac from her studio. The artist has described these works as allegories of excess.1 Started in 1986 and completed in 1987 following a long stay in Paris, the present lot includes pictorial elements (a tortoise shell, porcupine quills, classical statuettes, red arum lilies) appearing in two other major works from this period: Still life with Watermelon and Others Things (1985) and Melancholia (1986). Although completed à la Melancholia, the artist changed certain details in this lot, notably drawing from a tableau featuring the artist and some of her students staged in the painting studio at Wits.2 At the centre of this composition, seated on a floor, naked but for a white sheet, is the artist, who returns the viewer’s gaze. The self-conscious gesture invokes Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656), an illusionistic allegory of spectatorship that directly informed Siopis’s paintings. The dead hare in the painting within a painting (middle ground, left) further extends the artist’s exploration of artifice and illusionism in painting and was based on a postcard image that Siopis found in Paris. The paintings include various accoutrements of affluence. The lion was modelled after a taxidermied animal that would later also feature in Siopis’s installation Charmed Lives at New York’s Museum for African Art in 1999. The magnificently detailed curtain tassel, a hallmark of the French craft of passementerie, is in Siopis’s painting a haptic icon of plenitude. Unmissable as a feature, it connotes the privileges and pretences of late-apartheid white South Africa.

1. Gerrit Olivier (ed) (2016) Penny Siopis: Time and Again, Johannesburg: Wits Press, page 59.
2. Interview with the artist, 13 September 2019.

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