Crossing the courtyard back to my studio, mug of tea in hand, I noticed a late blooming of one of my moth orchids (Phalaenopsis orchids: Moth Orchid Care is Easy!). Feeling that this gift was wasted on my two dogs, whose sleeping quarters share the pink beauty’s place on a workbench at the back door, I cut and placed it in a small glass bottle on my work table. This time of day the sun casts its last shadows in this room, and provided the perfect backdrop for the photo – and reminded me of another orchid, the (in)famous Lost Orchid painting by Vladimir Tretchikoff.
The Lost Orchid, Valdimir Tretchikoff
Refreshing my memory about this South African artist we love to hate, I found this delightful story behind the most-reproduced artwork in the world, Tretchikoff’s green-faced “Chinese Girl.”
I quote and paraphrase from the newspaper article (please click on the caption to read more): Russian-born Vladimir Tretchikoff always claimed his subject was a woman he met in San Francisco, when in fact it was a 17-year-old South African, Monika Sing-Lee. She was working in her uncle’s laundry in Cape Town in the early 1950s. Mrs Pon, now in her mid-70s, recalls that the artist approached her there and asked if she would sit for him. She remembers that men used to find her sexy and beautiful, but that “growing up in the apartheid era, everyone hated the Chinese and at home I was called ‘flat face’. So I never felt pretty.”
For two days a week over the following ten weeks, Monika posed for the Vladimir and 15 of his students in the sessions which produced the picture officially titled The Chinese Girl.
For another take on Tretchi, read this entry on the blog of South African Constitutional Law expert, Pierre de Vos: Why President Zuma is like Tretchikoff – Constitutionally Speaking. A slightly tenuous connection, but it made me smile.