Celebrating The Life And Artworks Of 'The King Of Kitsch' - Vladimir Tretchikoff

The Chinese Girl is one of the world’s best-selling art reproductions to date, following Tretchikoff’s decision to replicate the painting into prints during the 50’s. The painting is often referred to as a kitsch version of the Mona Lisa. It is unusual for a number of reasons, namely the blue-green colour of her skin, fiery red lips, seemingly unfinished background and bright yellow-gold, Asian inspired garment. The original was sold in 2013 for close to £100,000.

 Vladimir in his older age among his paintings 

Vladimir in his older age among his paintings 

Despite his commercial success and popularity among the broader public, Tretchikoff was never embraced by the art elite. He became known as the ‘king of kitsch’ and was criticised as a ‘cheap sensation for the masses’. The decision to reproduce his unique paintings into prints was a shrewd, strategic decision that saw him become a very wealthy artist. He was the first artist to make and sell lithographic reproductions of his work. It is rumoured that Tretchikoff was the world’s richest artist after Picasso.

Tretchikoff’s background had a specific influence over his subjects as they embody elements of China, Singapore, Indonesia and South Africa. Tretchikoff was born in Siberia in 1913, a descendant of Siberian landowners. His family was forced to abandon their home in 1917 and fled to Harbin, China during the Russian Revolution. With the proceeds of his first commission from the Chinese-Eastern Railway, he moved to Shanghai and became a cartoonist for the English Language Shanghai Times. During this time, he met Natalie Telpregoff, also a Russian refugee, who he later married in 1935. They subsequently moved to Singapore but during 1942 evacuated the country, following the Japanese invasion. He escaped on a ship, bound for South Africa. Unfortunately, the ship was bombed by the Japanese and Tretchikoff found himself and 42 other survivors rowing across the Java Sea. He ended up in Java, only to be captured by the Japanese and held in solitary confinement for three months. His freedom was negotiated after he astonished his captors with his artistic ability.

 Lenka - represents the juxtaposition of the West and the East. Lenka was an artist herself, mistress of five languages and held a high-salaried position as a qualified accountant. 

Lenka - represents the juxtaposition of the West and the East. Lenka was an artist herself, mistress of five languages and held a high-salaried position as a qualified accountant. 

In 1946, Vladimir was reunited with his wife and daughter in Cape Town. His portraits of Asian women and paintings of flowers, quickly become popular in South Africa. His South African exhibitions were a great success and word quickly spread to America and London. In 1961, he exhibited in Harrods, London, whereby a crowd of 200,000 visitors gathered to view Vladimir’s paintings.

Tretchikoff lived out the rest of his years in Cape Town, where he passed away in 2006. His international acclaim lives on today, even though art critics have dismissed his art as kitsch. His prints can still be purchased from vladimirtretchikoff.com and add a certain retro-chic feel reminiscent of the 50’s.

In the words of Vladimir himself, ‘Express your passion. Do what you love. No matter what’.