Cape Town -
This is Valerie Howe, or as most people have come to know her, Miss Wong.
The half-French, half-Chinese woman is the subject of one of artist Vladimir Tretchikoff’s better-known paintings, which is to be auctioned in Cape Town next Tuesday.
Miss Wong, which has been mass reproduced, is worth between R4 million and R6 million. Auctioneers Stephan Welz are to sell it a few months after Tretchikoff’s Chinese Girl fetched R13.8m at a London auction.
Among the treasure trove of artworks going under the hammer are a Pablo Picasso earthenware pitcher, three other Tretchikoff works and a painting by Alexis Preller, Mapogga Axis Mundi, which has not been seen in public for 40 years.
“In my opinion, Miss Wong is in some respects superior to Chinese Girl,” said Andrew Lamprecht, a UCT art lecturer and curator of a 2011 retrospective exhibition of Tretchikoff's work.
“Miss Wong is one of four or five most important Tretchikoffs in existence.”
The Port Elizabeth-born beauty was 18 when Tretchikoff painted her at his Bishopscourt home in 1955. At the time, she lived in Cape Town and walked her dogs in Camps Bay, where Tretchikoff came across her by chance. This is the story Howe told her son Wayne Young, a cosmetic surgeon in Sydney, before her death in 1995 at the age of 58.
Young said his mother did not look as Asian as Tretchikoff had made her look, but there was a resemblance.
He had never asked his mother what she thought of the painting, but believed she was proud of it.
The Tretchikoff and Preller pieces are expected to be auctioned on Tuesday and the Picasso pitcher the next day.
Preller’s Mapogga Axis Mundi, “underground” in a private collection for four decades, is considered one of his masterpieces and features in a collection of 168 of his artworks to be auctioned.
Stephan Welz director Shona Robie said the Picasso pitcher, which had also been part of a local seller’s collection, was the type of piece that seldom went on auction in South Africa.