I was the Chinese Girl in Tretchikoff’s painting

Earlier this year Vladimir Tretchikoff’s portrait Chinese Girl, often referred to as The Green Lady, was sold for almost £1m ($1.5m) at auction in London – a reflection of its status as one of the most popular prints ever made. The model, Monika Pon-su-san, recalls what it was like to be thrust into the limelight.

One day in 1950, a curly-haired stranger walked into my uncle’s laundry in Cape Town, where I worked.

He stood there as I served a customer, his eyes fixed on me the whole time. He only spoke when we were alone together in the shop.

“Hello!” he said. “I’m Tretchikoff. I’d love to paint you.”

I thought I looked like a monster from a horror film – I pulled an ugly face and said ‘Ugh – green face!’ ” -Monika Pon-su-san

At that time Vladimir Tretchikoff wasn’t very famous but by chance I had read about him in a newspaper just the Saturday before.

So I was a bit nervous, but I said yes. He picked me up after work and took me back home.

I was given his wife’s gown to put on. It was silk chiffon – beautiful, beautiful stuff. It wasn’t yellow like in the painting – that was his own invention.

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