Cloudy Weather Report Ramallah, Palestine +4°C, Cloudy
Home | UK |

Revealed after 60 years... the real Green Lady whose face is on a million living room walls

By Dan Newling

Last updated at 1:16 AM on 4th June 2011

The flowing black locks are instantly recognisable, as are the  flared nostrils and ruby lips.

But thankfully, her skin has lost its emerald glow.

This is Monika Pon, the Green Lady whose face has adorned millions of British sitting-room walls.

Was she on your living room wall? Monika Sing-Lee recreates the pose captured in Vladmir Tretchikoff's famous picture The Green Lady - the world's most reproduced painting that made the artist's fortune

The Daily Mail this week tracked her down at her home in South Africa and discovered the true story behind the world’s most reproduced painting.

Its artist, Russian-born Vladimir Tretchikoff, always claimed his subject was a woman he met in San Francisco.

In fact it was 17-year-old Monika Sing-Lee, who was a single girl working in her uncle’s laundry in Cape Town in the early 1950s when Tretchikoff heard of her beauty from a friend.

Striking beauty: Seventeen-year-old Monika Sing-Lee was a single girl working in her uncle's laundry in the early Fifties when she posed for the painting

Striking beauty: Seventeen-year-old Monika Sing-Lee was a single girl working in her uncle's laundry in the early Fifties when she posed for the painting

‘He walked in, stared at me and said, “Hello, I’m Tretchikoff. I would like to paint you. Would you sit for me?”,’ recalled Mrs Pon, now in her mid-70s.

‘I didn’t know what to say – I was very naive about these sorts of things. I had been told by men that I was beautiful and sexy, and my friends said when I walked down the street everyone noticed me.

‘But growing up in the apartheid era, everyone hated the Chinese and at home I was called “flat face”. So I never felt pretty.’

Nonetheless she agreed and, for two days a week over the following ten weeks, Monika posed for the Russian artist and 15 of his students in the sessions which produced the picture officially titled The Chinese Girl.

‘I would sit on a little stage, which was slightly raised,’ she recalls. ‘I wore a pure silk jacket that belonged to his wife. In the picture it’s a different colour to how it was in real life. But it’s the same one.

‘He was handsome and attractive and he made me laugh. We had such fun.  But he was always a gentleman to me.’

Tretchikoff paid her just over six South African pounds for her time: a fee equivalent to around £130 now.

Monika was happy with the money but the painting, when she eventually saw it, did not impress her.

The artist: Vladimir Tretchikoff painted Miss Pon in the early Fifties after a friend told him of her beauty

The artist: Vladimir Tretchikoff painted Miss Pon in the early Fifties after a friend told him of her beauty

‘To be honest, I didn’t like that green face,’ she said. ‘I thought it made me look ill.’

She went on to marry commercial traveller Pon Su-Suan and have five children, but they parted 40 years ago and she spent much of her life in poverty, working in a fish-and-chip shop and as a seamstress.

Meanwhile Tretchikoff went from strength to strength. While loathed by art critics, his garish paintings were hugely popular in the drab post-war years.

He made millions selling cheap reproductions of his work direct to the public. 

And of all his pictures, it was The Chinese Girl that sold the most.  Even now it is revered as a classic of 1950s kitsch.

While acknowledging he painted an early version of the picture in Cape Town, Tretchikoff claimed it had been destroyed by vandals and maintained until his death in 2006 that his model came from the U.S.

Experts think that he concealed its true origin through misguided fear of being sued for a portion of its earnings.

But Andrew Lamprecht, who is writing a book on the artist, said: ‘It’s clear as soon as you meet Monika that it’s her.’

And Mrs Pon says the artist privately acknowledged that she was the true Chinese Girl.

Reintroduced in the 1990s, the pair struck up a strong friendship. Pictures of the pair show them laughing together.

Mrs Pon said: ‘When we met, he didn’t recognise me so I told him who I was. He said, “Don’t be silly – you don’t look like her”. I replied, “Do you look the same as you did 40 years ago?” 

‘Then I told him how we met and little things that only the true Chinese Girl would know, such as how he liked to dance the jitterbug. That was that. Immediately we were laughing again.’

She added: ‘I’m not boasting but it was my portrait that made Tretchikoff rich. The Chinese Girl was the best thing that ever happened to me in my not-so-nice life.’

Share this article:

Tags

No tags for this article

Related Articles

A cloistered nun has stunned her mother superior and sisters after giving birth to a baby boy

A nun complaining of stomach pains has given birth to a baby boy in Italy The woman, from South America, was taken to hospital by fellow

Pregnant woman being harrased

Kerry Belton was on her way to collect her younger sister from school She entered Felixstowe Police Station to ask to use the toilets in a

Wettest June on Record Met Office Figures Show

Last month was the UK's wettest June since records began in 1910, provisional Met Office figures show.   It comes after this year also saw the rainiest

Most Watched Videos

VIDEO: Fuel Shortages Provoked By Greedy Govt Policy Described As War On Poor

Fuel shortages in Nigeria described as war on poor Nigerians. Government policy of not paying for fuel to the importers is hurting ordinary Nigerians as much

WIZKID - OJUELEGBA video

Below is the 5th track off Wizkid's "Ayo" "Ojuelegba" album and was inspired by his experiences and sojourn in and around this part of Lagos,

Crocodile Attacks Wildebeest At Mara River

This was a "double crossing" where some wildebeest headed north while others headed south across the Mara River. A crocodile attacks one of the wildebeest,

FINALLY PATIENCE SPEAKS ON FUEL SCARCITY

This will make you laugh! A parody of first lady, Patience finally speaks on fuel scarcity issue in Nigeria. This skit was produced by OAP, Yaw

Dr SID - Last Bus Stop

New video from Dr SID's Siduction Album dedicated to his wife Simi.

Most Read News

It Won’t Be A Tea-Party For Buhari — Soludo

Prof. Charles Soludo, former Central Bank Governor has stated it won’t be an easy task for Buhari and his team to bring the change Nigerians

KTJ Minimah Visits Troops In Frontline

Following the relocation of the Command and Control Cantre of the Army High Command to Maiduguri, Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General KTJ Minimah has

Singer Teyana Taylor gets naked in new photoshoot

The size of those boobs though..:-). The singer linked up with photographer Sasha Samsonova for some sassy chic gold-plated photos. She shared the photos on

I Can Still Sleep In Saidi Balgun's Bed - Fathia Admits

Few days ago, it was reported that the ex-lovers, Fathia and Saidi Balogun, were done with their marriage for good. But Faithia is not done

Insurgency: Gaidam pledges enhanced welfare for soldiers

Governor Ibrahim Gaidam of Yobe State on Saturday assured security personnel involved in the war against Boko Haram insurgents in the state of prompt payment

Dr. Joe Odumakin Returns To Secondary School To Celebrates Birthday (Photos)

Josephine "Joe" Obiajulu Okei-Odumakin is a Nigerian women's rights activist. The president of the rights groups Women Arise for Change Initiative and the Campaign for

Most Watched Movies

Mark Of A King

Sequel To Royal Wedding Features: Ngozi Ezeonu, Patience Ozokwor, Uche Odoputa, Annie Macaulay, Leo Mezie, Ken Erics, Prince Nwafor, Oni Michael, Abel Bella "Hmm, right now am

Prince Of Darkness

End Of Angel Of Darkness Features: Kenneth Okonkwo, Eucharia Anunobi, Pete Edochie, Clem Ohameze, Jibola Dabo An Occultist and a Christian living under the same roof, but

Mercy's Cult - Part 2

Features: Chika Ike, Queen Nwaokoye, Mercy Johnson

Pinging Girls Vs White Angels 2

Queen Nwokoye, Eve Esin, Uche Elendu, Rachael Okonkwo, Ejiro Okurame, Benson Okonkwo The rivalry between the two clubs on campus is becoming an unpredictable chaos. The

Immoral Affair 2 - Part 2

Starring: Chet Anekwe, Joyce Gyimah At a glance, they look like the perfect couple, every bit. At home they both argue over the least

Haunted Shadows 3 - Part 2

Features: Van Vicker, Chika Ike, Yul Edochie We know "Money" is the root of all evils, yet the love for Money increases day in day out.

cron