Mental Floss

The Russian-Born South African: Vladimir Tretchikoff

Andréa Fernandes

In our quest to cover an artist from a different country in each "Feel Art Again" post for the month of June, today's post features Vladimir Tretchikoff (1913-2006), a Russian-born artist who "was a very proud South African."

1. Among artists, Vladimir Tretchikoff is reportedly second only to Picasso in popularity and wealth. Tretchikoff's most well-known painting, "Chinese Girl" (also known as "The Green Lady," above left) is one of the best-selling art prints ever. The painting has achieved a spot in pop culture history with appearances in the Michael Caine film Alfie, episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus and Doctor Who, and Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy.

2. Tretchikoff's résumé includes stints as a scene painter at a Russian opera house in Harbin, China; a newspaper cartoonist in Shanghai for the Shanghai Evening Post; founder of an art school in Singapore; and a propaganda artist for the British Ministry of Information during World War II.

3. In February of 1942, Tretchikoff, working for the British Ministry of Information, was on a ship evacuating ministry personnel to South Africa. The ship was attacked by the Japanese, leaving the survivors to row first to Sumatra and then on to Java, both of which had already been taken by the Japanese. Tretchikoff and the others were placed in a Japanese prison camp, where Tretchikoff earned himself 3 months of solitary confinement by protesting his imprisonment on the grounds of his Russian citizenship. Later, he was placed on parole in Batavia (now Jakarta) before finally being reunited with his wife and daughter in South Africa in 1946.

4. Although Tretchikoff lived in South Africa for 60 years, from 1946 until his death in 2006, the South African art establishment does not "really regard Tretchikoff as a South African artist." As a result, the South African National Gallery does not own a single original Tretchikoff work.

5. Tretchikoff's autobiography, Pigeon's Luck, was published in 1973. The autobiography, an account of his wartime experiences, was written with the help of Anthony Hocking. Hocking's thorough research for the book included talking to people in 21 different countries.

Larger versions of "The Chinese Girl" (above left) and "Women of the Ndebele" (above right) are available. Fans should check out the Tretchikoff official web site. "Feel Art Again" appears three times a week. Looking for a particular artist? Visit our archive for a complete listing of all 250+ artists that have been featured. You can e-mail us at with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists.