Modern, Post-War and Contemporary Art, Decorative Arts, Jewellery and Fine Wine

Live Virtual Auction, 8 - 11 November 2020

Contemporary Art

Sold for

ZAR 910 400
Lot 664
  • Penny Siopis; Untitled
  • Penny Siopis; Untitled
  • Penny Siopis; Untitled
  • Penny Siopis; Untitled
  • Penny Siopis; Untitled

Lot Estimate
ZAR 500 000 - 700 000
Selling Price
Incl. Buyer's Premium & VAT
ZAR 910 400

About this Item

South African 1953-


pastel on paper
126 by 88cm excluding frame; 164 by 125 by 5cm including frame


Between the years 1985 and 1995 Penny Siopis produced a body of work often referred to as her History Paintings. Noted for their development of style where ‘the genre of still life and history painting melted together in an allegory of excess’, the works of this period parallel Siopis’ move from teaching at Durban Technikon to the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. There, Siopis found ‘another world’ which she describes as ‘much more challenging professionally – and politically’, ultimately propelling her pictorial compositions in a direction that ‘delved into illusionism and complex spatial dynamics’.1

The present lot, executed in pastel, illustrates Siopis’ abiding interest in seventeenth century Dutch vanitas painting, whilst revealing her subversion of the historical genre seen from a contemporary perspective. Contrary to her Cake Paintings, characterised by their spatial economy, where the richly applied impasto gives form to her luscious confectionaries positioned on otherwise minimal surfaces, here, materiality finds a new home in the objects that fill Siopis’ pictorial frame.

Recounting her stay of seven months at the Cité Internationale des Arts, where this lot was started, Siopis recounts that ‘in Paris, I did large pastel drawings that referenced my trips to the Louvre, the food markets, the opera’.2 Elements of this intricate composition can be found in a later painting, Act I Scene II, which features the same gesturing hand that appears from the right of the composition. Similarly, the figure of Atlas reoccurs, seen here as a confectionary holder filled with an assortment of candies and porcupine quills.

Other sculptures from Greek mythology also make an

 appearance, notably Daphne and Apollo seen balancingon the edge of the table in the upper foreground, and Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss whose interlocking forms occupy the middle ground to the right-hand side of the picture, beneath shimmering drapery. The delicately rendered spring onions feature in an earlier work, Feast (1985), whilst the Zoo biscuits just beneath are also to be found in Siopis’ monumental work, Melancholia (1985).

The drama of this composition takes place however outside the areas of fanciful colour and sensuous visual allure. Instead, the figure that stares towards the window, rendered by streaming light, beyond the drapery, creates a moment of dramatic tension. By conjuring this internal recognition, of a world within a world, Siopis draws our attention away from the sweets and the fruits, to another more wistful dimension which Gerrit Olivier describes as ‘a tension between materiality and reference’ that ‘interferes with the distinction between ‘form’ and ‘content’ that underpins habitual ways of looking’.3

1. Gerrit Olivier (ed) (2016) Penny Siopis: Time and Again, Johannesburg: Wits Press, page 59.
2. Ibid, page 62.
3. Ibid, page 2.9

View all Penny Siopis lots for sale in this auction

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