Vladimir Tretchikoff's Chinese Girl up for sale


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The Independent Culture

The face that launched a thousand prints - Russian painter Vladimir Tretchikoff's instantly recognisable Chinese Girl - is up for sale.

The original painting is being auctioned in March and is expected to fetch as much as £500,000, a far cry from the cost of the cheap prints which hung on living room walls up and down the land.

Millions of reproductions of the picture, also known as the Green Lady because of the unusual blue-green skin tone of the subject, have been sold since it was painted in the 1950s and it has featured on t-shirts, mugs and posters.

The picture, which has been described as the most famous painting in the world, 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.

Writer Boris Gorelik, an expert on the Russian-born artist, said the painting was "familiar to millions of people throughout the world".

He said: "What's more, this is one of the most important pop culture icons in Britain and the Commonwealth in the 1950s to early 1960s. Today, even prints of the Green Lady in mint condition, which went for a couple of pounds in their day, change hands for hundreds of pounds.

"Take the Chinese Girl for example: millions of people - perhaps your parents or grandparents - bought a lithograph of this painting, hung it on their wall and admired it for years, if not decades. Maybe even you grew up looking at it. And today you can get the real thing - the original canvas. It's certainly fascinating."

The painting forms part of a sale of South African art at Bonhams auction house in central London on March 20.

Here are some other artworks which have gone on to adorn millions of walls in the past decades:

  • Tennis Girl - the image of 18-year-old Fiona Walker (then Butler) showed her with her back to the camera, hitching up her tennis dress to show her bottom. She had posed for her then boyfriend Martin Elliott using borrowed gear but the simple image proved a huge hit.
  • Sgt Pepper sleeve - although its natural home is in any decent record collection, Sir Peter Blake's sleeve was stuck to the walls of many bedrooms or displayed in frames. People have tried to look for hidden meanings since it was released in 1967.
  • Lord Of The Rings - poster sold by Athena which is often said to have been the biggest seller of the 1970s. It was created by a teenage Jimmy Cauty, who went on to be half of chart-topping duo KLF, who were also famed for burning £1 million. Cauty is now an artist once again.
  • Dogs playing pool - a series of paintings featuring dogs gathered around a pool table, which have decorated the walls of pubs and homes for years. They include one of a Jack Russell terrier miscuing and wrecking the baize. Its name? Jack The Ripper.
  • Le baiser de l'httel de ville - Robert Doisneau's image of a couple kissing on the streets of Paris has been an enduringly romantic image since it was published by Life magazine in 1950, even though the pair dated for a mere nine months.
  • Nighthawks - US painter Edward Hopper's atmospheric image of "Phillies" diner, created in 1942, lives at the Art Institute of Chicago - and on millions of bedroom walls. It has inspired movie scenes, a track by Tom Waits and a Simpsons homage.
  • Man And Baby - the sepia-tinted image of a rippling hunk staring lovingly at a baby is said to embody the idea of a sensitive "new man". Andrew Perry, the male model who appeared in the picture (actually called L'enfant), claimed to have slept with 3,000 women.
  • Trainspotting - the poster from the Danny Boyle film has been a ubiquitous feature of student bedroom walls since the movie - about drug users in Edinburgh - came out in 1996. It depicts a line-up of the film's principle stars including Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle.
  • Keep Calm And Carry On - a poster created by the Ministry of Information in 1939 designed to uphold the morale of the nation in the face of a possible German invasion in the early days of the Second World War. It has had a new lease of life in the past decade after being copied and adapted for tea towels, greetings cards and mugs in austerity Britain.
  • Starry Night - Vincent Van Gogh's painting of a swirling moonlit sky outside the window of his sanitarium in southern France has been reproduced endlessly. The original is in New York's Museum Of Modern Art. It was famously mentioned in the opening line of Don McLean's hit Vincent.

By Anthony Barnes