“Chinese Girl”, the iconic 1950 painting by Vladimir Tretchikoff, a Russian who settled in South Africa in 1946, was sold for a record £982 050 (R13.8-million) at Bonhams’ South African art sale in London last week.
“Chinese Girl” was bought by British businessman and jeweler Laurence Graff, chairman of Graff Diamonds International, who owns the Delaire Graff Estate near Stellenbosch, where the painting will go on public display with the rest of his art collection.
The painting, which has been described as one of the most important pop culture images in Britain, was inspired by Monika Sing-Lee, who modelled for Tretchikoff after he spotted her at work in her uncle’s launderette in Cape Town, South Africa.
The highest selling art print in history, in the 1950s and ’60s “Chinese Girl” captured imaginations “and pride of place above mantelpieces across the globe, from South Africa to Australia, Britain to America,” according to Bonhams’ auction catalogue.
The painting had been an unprecedented success during Tretchikoff’s tour of the US in 1953-4 and Canada in 1955, prompting him to reproduce it in the form of the large-scale lithographic print with which he would become synonymous.
Unseen for many years, the original painting was once again exhibited in the landmark exhibition “Tretchikoff: The People’s Painter” at the South African National Gallery in 2011.
Significantly, Tretchikoff out performed the two long time market leaders in South African art, Irma Stern and Jacob Hendrik Pierneef, at Wednesday’s auction.
“Landscape Stellenbosch” by Pierneef made £713 250, while “Congolese Beauty” by Irma Stern was sold for £541 250. The whole sale of 150 paintings by South African artists made £4.5-million.
According to Bonhams, Tretchikoff’s value has risen exponentially in the art market, due both to the re-evaluation of his legacy in exhibitions and his appearances at recent auctions at Bonhams.
Tretchikoff’s semi-nude “Portrait of Lenka (Red Jacket)”, featuring his lover and muse, recently sold for £337 250 (R4.7-million).
Tretchikoff, who painted with oils and watercolours, died in Cape Town in 2006 at the age of 92.