Vladimir Tretchikoff's Green Lady.
Is Vladimir Tretchikoff becoming respectable? The
original of the famous Green Lady
, one of the most
reproduced paintings in the world and long considered the
epitome of kitsch, is about to be auctioned and is expected to
fetch a high price. Kitsch or not, it might do that but there
are signs Tretchikoff's reputation is floating upwards, too.
But first, a correction. I said in the last column Olveston's
ownership had been transferred from the city to an autonomous
trust. This was from talking with Jeremy Smith, Olveston's
new manager, and noting Sue Bidrose's recent statement it was
a non-city council owned ''attraction''. Sue Addison, of
Perpetual Trustees Ltd, wrote to the ODT (8.2.13),
saying there had been no change.
I've contacted Mr Smith and Ms Addison. The stand-alone trust
of which Mr Smith is the sole trustee is not the owner of
Olveston. It is the entity which acts as a charity on
Olveston's behalf, receiving gifts, for example.
Because Miss Theomin made the bequest of her house and its
contents to the city in perpetuity it can't be alienated -
for example, sold - and as the right of disposal is the core
property right, this means, although the city ''accepted''
the bequest, it doesn't legally own it. Instead, Olveston
''is held on trust by the council for the people of Dunedin,
with Perpetual being the trustee of Dorothy Theomin's
estate'', to quote Ms Addison.
I appreciate everyone's efforts to correct and clarify this
because such things are not unimportant and the more people
know about them the better.
I then asked Ms Addison who or what, then, owns Olveston? Or
is there perhaps no owner? I hadn't heard back by the time of
writing but the opinion of a lawyer who hasn't seen the
relevant documents is that it's probably the property of Miss
Theomin's estate or some legal entity such as a trust,
constructed around that.
All this being a bit clearer I think it was a bit confusing
of the council's Ms Bidrose to bracket Olveston - strictly
speaking ''The Theomin Gallery'' - with the Otago Museum.
True, the council owns neither, but its duty holding Olveston
on trust appears to imply a greater responsibility than any
it has for the Otago Museum. And, for example, it probably
has greater powers over the admission charge policy there
than at the Otago Museum, which makes Olveston more like the
public gallery and the settlers museum, the context in which
the question came up.
Tretchikoff's Green Lady was the subject of an article
(ODT, 14.2.13). Its proper title is Chinese
Girl and its subject is still alive. She is Monika Pon, a
South African who was paid about 6 for six weeks of sittings
for Tretchikoff's students in the early 1950s. Tretchikoff
was born in 1913 in what was then Russia but is now part of
Kazakhstan. He fled with his parents to Harbin, in China, and
later studied and worked in Shanghai and Singapore.
He was a ''symbolic realist'', in his own description, who
started painting stage sets - a reason his works seem
theatrical. He fled to Indonesia and was captured by the
Japanese, but eventually went on to Cape Town, to rejoin his
wife. He was there from 1946 until his death in 2006.
Long before then he had become famous, if not admired, for
his pictures of often Oriental beauties such as Ms Pon. He
maintained they were not portraits but symbols created by his
own imagination. He liked to give his models non-descriptive
colouring, and he made Ms Pon look a bluish green.
Colour prints were made of his works and were wildly
successful commercially. I have seen hundreds just of
Chinese Girl in Dunedin and numerous ones of other
They were often to be seen among the decorations of the less
discriminating members of the middle class, where the other
furnishings were also something less than avant-garde. He has
been styled the ''King of Kitsch'' and to admire such a work
used to be the aesthetic equivalent of hara-kiri. Latterly,
though, since kitsch became cool, Tretchikoff's works have
acquired a new following.
The artist himself was dismissive. He probably didn't want to
be admired as a freak. But does Tretchikoff's work bear
re-examination? He was certainly an adept realist. His
non-descriptive colour is no more bizarre than the Fauves'.
His symbolism, if obvious, is not exactly heavy-handed and
the portrait of his mistress, Lenka, which is not symbolic is
His work doesn't have the wow factor of the Polish Tamara de
Lempicka 1898-1980 who could also be called a symbolic
realist. Her reputation has recovered from a low, although,
unlike Tretchikoff, she had enjoyed an earlier critical
success. He's probably due a bit more credit than he ever
- Peter Entwisle is a Dunedin curator, historian and