Monika Pon-Su-San the stunning model/sitter behind the 1950s kitsch classic ‘The Green Lady’ or ‘The Chinese Girl‘ as it was officially titled has died in South Africa aged 86.
The work of art was so popular in the mid-twentieth century that it was marketed as a framed print in Woolworths. It sold millions of copies and appeared in films and most recently in David Bowie’s video for the song, ‘The Stars Are Out Tonight’ as well as in The White Stripes music video Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground and Alfred’s Hitchcock’s film Frenzy.
The Green Lady – “It has to be good. If it were bad, so many people wouldn’t like it.” – Andy Warhol
Monika Pon-Su-San was discovered while working in her uncle’s laundry. Her life was changed by the Russian artist Vladimir Tretchikoff who asked her if he could paint her portrait in 1952. She became known as The Chinese Girl, even as an elderly woman.
“After she got married in 1953‚ she moved to Johannesburg with her husband. Her marriage fell apart early on‚ and she raised her five children by working as a shipping clerk and‚ in her spare time‚ as a dressmaker. She subsequently met her life partner‚ Enrico Tabasso‚ and a love story ensued that spanned forty-four years‚” said a family statement.
The now famous painting was sold it to a woman in Chicago in 1953. It was subsequently sold at Bonhams in 2013 for £982,050. This was near twice the estimate. It was purchased by the billionaire jeweller Laurence Graff .
Giles Peppiatt, Director of South African Art at Bonhams, said “The iridescent hues of ‘Chinese Girl’ reflect Tretchikoff’s experimentation with the possibilities of his color palette: the green-blue patina-like effect of the sitter’s face is uncanny, heightening the red of her lips and framed by her lustrous dark hair. The deftly- handled golden hues and decorative detail of her tunic emerge from the lines of charcoal on brown canvas, a combination of media familiar from works like ‘Basotho Girl’ and ‘Zulu Maiden’. Notably, the combination of lustrous golden silk and the blue sheen of the model’s skin combine to produce an otherworldly glow: a luminescence that is the leitmotif of Tretchikoff’s best works.” Tretchikoff suffered a stroke in 2002 and died in 2006 in Cape Town.
Monika Pon-Su-San died earlier this month at the age of 86 in Johannesburg‚ said her daughter Margo Su-San. A memorial service to honour and celebrate Monika’s life was held at the Mater Dolorosa Catholic Church in Kensington‚ Johannesburg‚ on June 20. She is survived by Enrico‚ two sons and three daughters.