Tretchikoff’s Chinese Girl home at last

2013-12-01 14:00

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Chinese Girl, the iconic painting by Russian-born but Cape Town-based artist Vladimir Tretchikoff, has returned home to South Africa after 60 years abroad.

This week the famous painting joined a vast collection of art at the Delaire Graff Estate near Franschhoek, where it will go on public ­display.

The piece was bought by British diamond tycoon Laurence Graff – dubbed the “king of bling” by UK tabloids – for R13.7?million at a London auction in March this year.

Graff bought Delaire in 2003 and filled it with works of art, including drawings by William Kentridge, cheetah sculptures by Dylan Lewis and vivid oils by Ndikhumbule Ngqinambi.

Recent celebrity visitors to Delaire Graff include Harrison Ford, Calista Flockhart and Jamie Foxx.

On Friday, well-heeled patrons gathered at the wine estate for a R1 500-a-head gala ­unveiling of the piece.

Guests included the woman who posed for the painting in 1952: Monica Sing-Lee, now 78, who met Tretchikoff at a laundromat in Sea Point.

Tretchikoff’s daughter Mimi Mercorio and granddaughter Natasha Swift posed for pictures between sips of sauvignon blanc.

“Well I’m delighted that Chinese Girl is home now,” said Swift, a life coach. “Whether people love or hate the painting, she is an important part of our heritage.”

Tretchikoff’s mass-reproduced works were mostly loathed by art critics but loved by the public.

Graff was absent from the merrymaking on Friday.

The 75-year-old founder of Graff Diamonds apparently only spends about a week a year in South Africa.

He has credited Chinese Girl for stirring his interest in art when he was a child.

“It is one of the first pieces of art I remember noticing as a boy. At that time reproductions of the picture were extremely popular,” Graff said.

Delaire Graff’s marketing manager, Tanja Mackay-Davidson, said Graff wanted South African families to be able to ­enjoy art in an “accessible, ­relaxed space”.

The tycoon sits on the executive committee of the Guggenheim Museum in New York and is a member of the international council of the Tate Modern in London.

His Graff Leadership Centre in Lesotho has raised millions of rands through donations from leading artists like Banksy and Damien Hirst.

Tretchikoff, considered one of the most commercially ­successful artists of all time, ­escaped from Soviet Russia and immigrated to South Africa ­after World War 2.

He lived in Sea Point and later in Bishopscourt, and was often spotted driving a large pink Cadillac with his fur-decked wife, ­Natalie, in the passenger seat.

He died in 2006.

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