20th Apr, 2024 18:00

TAKING FLIGHT: Selected Works from the Phoenix Collection

Lot 10
Lot 10 - Vladimir  Tretchikoff (South Africa 1913-2006)


Vladimir Tretchikoff (South Africa 1913-2006)
Wajang Dancer, Java

oil on canvas

Signature details: signed and inscribed ‘Java’ top right; inscribed with the title on the reverse

Estimated at R800,000 - R1,200,000


oil on canvas

Signature details: signed and inscribed ‘Java’ top right; inscribed with the title on the reverse


78 x 73 cm; framed size: 93 x 88 x 4 cm


Bonhams, London, The South African Sale, 1 October 2014, lot 41.


Tretchikoff was born in the Russian Empire in what is present-day Kazakhstan, but at a young age fled the country due to revolution, settling first in China and then in Singapore. In 1942, the artist’s young family were faced with the realities of impending war in Singapore, which posed a serious threat to the happy and contented life that he had been enjoying there. Tretchikoff bid farewell to his wife and daughter as they were evacuated by boat, and a mere four days later, Singapore was invaded by Japan. The artist was evacuated, with just a small travel case and some paintings and canvases rolled under his arm. Unfortunately, the boat that Tretchikoff and some 300 others were fleeing on was torpedoed, and those paintings were “consigned to the deep”.[1]

A few survivors managed to escape on life rafts and rowed for 21 days, until they reached the shores of Java, the largest island of the then Dutch East Indies. Java had already fallen to the Japanese, so Tretchikoff and those aboard the life rafts were interned. After months of being detained and exercising his rights as a Soviet national, the artist was released. He was not to leave the country, so settled in Jakarta and devoted himself to painting. He absorbed the culture around him, and this would be a prevailing influence throughout his career. The many portraits he completed of the people he encountered in Java demonstrated his “remarkable ability to capture the likeness and ‘presence’ of his sitters”.[2] These works would be exhibited during his first exhibitions in South Africa from 1948 to 49.

[1] Lamprecht, A. (2001). Tretchikoff: The People's Painter, Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball Publishers, p. 91.

[2] Ibid, p. 92.


  • The original Chinese Girl painting currently holds the record for a Tretchikoff work sold at auction, selling for an impressive $1 486 424 in London in 2013.
  • Vladimir Tretchikoff is considered one of the greatest commercial artists of all-time, with his most prolific work, Chinese Girl, recorded as the most highly circulated print in art history, selling more than half a million large-format reproductions worldwide by the end of the artist’s career.
  • In 2011, a major retrospective exhibition, Tretchikoff: The People’s Painter, curated by Andrew Lamprecht was held at the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town.
  • A book, Tretchikoff: The People’s Painter, was published to accompany the exhibition. Edited by Lamprecht it included essays by Boris Gorelik, Yvonne du Toit, Melvyn Minaar and Ashraf Jamal.
  • Further acclaimed publications include, The Gold Book, a large format book written and published by Howard Timmins in 1969 and Incredible Tretchikoff: Life of an Artist and Adventurer by Boris Gorelik in 2013.


The artist is represented in numerous local and international collections, notably, the; Rupert Museum, Stellenbosch; Delaire Graff Estate, Stellenbosch; Oyster Box Hotel, Durban and Browns Jewellers, Johannesburg.

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Auction: TAKING FLIGHT: Selected Works from the Phoenix Collection, 20th Apr, 2024



29 March – 20 April
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