Yesterday, while rummaging around in a mid-century modern vintage store, Refind, I found a fabulous painting of a magnolia branch by an artist I had never heard of before, Vladimir Tretchikoff, the King of Kitsch. It’s actually a print with an added pencil signature by the artist. The painting is called ‘Pink Magnolias.’
Those who know me know that I have a thing for kitschy Tiki, Hawaiian and Asian objects of art. I love vintage Hawaiian postcard, I throw tiki parties, love the cocktails and will wear a Hawaiian shirt without any hesitation.
However, I have never delved into the world of kitsch paintings. Perhaps in my mind the prohibitive image of black velvet paintings is too strong. This all changed when I went to an open house in Los Angeles a few months ago. I was so inspired and taken aback by the collection of vintage Hawaiian paintings, hanging in the master bedroom, that looked so elegant and stylish, and totally complimented the aesthetics of the room.
I realize it took a certain amount of panache to combine so-called real art with the flagrantly low culture pieces. But this was done, not for Kitschy irony but for the simple beauty afforded by the combination of colours and imagery. Read my blog post here.
My husband said to me yesterday just before we bought the painting “You have to be pretty confident in your design style to hang this kind of stuff.” Well we decided we were, so we bought the signed print, replete with its original frame.
It turns out I may be the only one in the world who hasn’t heard of him. Tretchikoff was a self-taught artist who painted realistic figures, portraits, still life and animals, with subjects often inspired by his early life in China, Singapore and Indonesia, and later life in South Africa. “His work was immensely popular with the general public, but is often seen by art critics as the epitome of kitsch (indeed, he was nicknamed the “King of Kitsch”). He worked in oil, watercolour, ink, charcoal and pencil but is best known for his reproduction prints, which sold worldwide in huge numbers. The reproductions were so popular that it was rumoured that Tretchikoff was the world’s richest artist after Picasso.” (Wikipedia)
The Magnolia and other tropical flowers, as well as, women from the Orient and Africa seem to be common themes in his paintings. “Arguably the prints had a populist appeal for being representational not abstract, yet they were also intriguingly exotic and enigmatic with their unfinished backgrounds, unconventional use of colour and Far Eastern or African subjects.” (Flashin’ on the 70s)
The Tretchikoff painting above, called ‘Chinese Girl’ (popularly known as “The Green Lady”), is one of the best selling art prints of the twentieth century. Recently, the original sold for nearly $1.5 million in London. The model for the painting was Monika Sing-lee who was around twenty at the time and was spotted by Tretchikoff working in her uncle’s laundrette in Cape Town.
This short Youtube video explains the interest in the painting.
The Chinese Girl painting has appeared in numerous famous depictions of popular culture. For example the painting can be seen hanging in the background of an animated living room in the music video for the song Young Folks by Peter Bjorn & John.
It can be seen adorning the living room of Bob Rusk, the killer in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Frenzy in 1972.
The painting is seen in the apartment of Ruby, Shelley Winters’ character, in Alfie (1966).
It is featured in his living room in the 2013 music video for The Stars (Are Out Tonight) by David Bowie.
As I always knew, exploration of junk stores leads to discovery and education. So next time you see a kitschy oil painting remember that these iconic pieces have their own stories and are touchstones of their period in time. Tretchikoff was interesting and his stuff is appealing – even with the layer of nostalgia and kitsch. Remember It’s OK and even pretty darn cool to combine disparate pieces – high and low art – Let’s not forget Mr. Warhol! It shows confidence and leadership – instead of waiting to see what might be cool – you go with your instincts and have confidence in your taste.
Finally, don’t forget to drop in to some open houses because you can learn from touring real estate and seeing other peoples Mojo.
I decided to hang my Vladimir Tretchikoff, Pink Magnolias painting in my entry foyer next to my blue West German vase.
Some of the images above were found on google images. If these photos are yours and you have concerns about their usage on this blog, please contact me and I will remove them. Thanks!