Tretchikoff’s ‘Chinese Girl’ headed home

22 March 2013

“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 on Wednesday.

This exceeded the £300 000 to £500 000 the painting was expected to go for following worldwide interest in the sale, and is a record price both for a Tretchikoff work and for any South African artist.

“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.

“This was an exceptional price for a work which really does merit the word ‘iconic’,” Giles Peppiatt, director of South African Art at Bonhams, said in a statement on Wednesday. “And it’s very happy news to hear that it is going home.”

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 some 150 pictures 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).

“Just over 100 Tretchikoff works have appeared at auction, a 20-year trajectory which charts a remarkable resurgence in the artist’s popularity,” Bonhams noted.

SAinfo reporter