The Post solves Tretchikoff art mystery

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Russian-born artist Vladimir Tretchikoff said he loved the Indian classical dancers eyes.

THE professional Durban dancer who appeared in Vladimir Tretchikoff’s painting, The Hindu Dancer, in the 1950s has been found.

Former Merebank resident Champa Manooa has been living in Florida in the United States with her daughter for over 30 years.

She had no idea POST was looking for her.

Last week we published a story about Tretchikoff’s painting of The Hindu Dancer that was to be auctioned in Cape Town.

It showed an Indian woman, similar to a deity, with multiple arms.

After the article was published more than a dozen readers, some from as far as New Zealand, emailed us.

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Eighty-year-old Champa Manooa lives with her daughter in Florida in the United States.

Supplied

They either knew who the woman was or volunteered to help track her down.

As word spread, POST soon received a call from Manooa’s daughter Chameli Jain.

She also emigrated to the States but relocated to Cape Town.

Our search was over.

“I’ve told my mother you’ve been looking for her. She cannot wait to speak to you,” said Jain.

When contacted Manooa was in high spirits.

“I remember meeting Tretchikoff like it was yesterday. I was 18 and went to Stuttafords in the Durban city centre. There was an exhibition taking place and some of Tretchikoff’s paintings were on show. He was not so famous back then but his works were beautiful.

“I particularly liked the one of The Chinese Girl. After I looked around I walked up to him, introduced myself and asked why he did not feature an Indian girl. He said: ‘Well, I haven’t found anyone yet’. I responded: ‘You can paint me, I’m Indian’.”

Tretchikoff admired Manooa’s beauty and told her he loved her eyes.

“When I informed him I was an Indian dancer, he became more eager to paint me. He asked for my contact details and called me about three weeks later. He purchased train tickets for my sister and I to travel to Cape Town where he was staying.”

Manooa sat for one session – dining on melon and ice cream which he ordered.

“He did not complete the painting that day but did two more sketches of me. One was called The Lotus, which I heard went on auction about two years ago, and the other was of me with my hands on my head in a dance pose.”

Manooa described Tretchikoff as being a wonderful person.

“He was calm, collected and serene. He did not speak a lot. Sometimes I was close to dosing off,” she laughed.

Years later the two met at another exhibition in Durban.

“I heard his artwork was on display and I went there. He was surprised to see me and hugged me in front of everyone. For a white man to do that to an Indian woman in those days was not common,” she laughed.

Manooa may not own Tretchikoff’s original works but has a signed print of The Hindu Dance in her home in Florida.

The grandmother of seven was born in Sophiatown.

But after becoming an orphan she relocated to Berea, in Durban, to live with her older sister.

As the years progressed the Indian classical dancer moved to Merebank.

Her husband George Surendra was a policeman and was in the band Ranjith Orchestra. They had four daughters: Chanchal Newton (of Florida), Chameli Jain (Cape Town), Chandni Manooa (North Carolina) and Anupam Thiel (Indiana).

The Hindu Dancer was to be auctioned last night (Tuesday) by Stephan Welz & Co, Auctioneers of Decorative and Fine Arts, in Constantia, Cape Town. It was expected to fetch between R800 000 and R1-million.

Tretchikoff was regarded as one of the most commercially successful artists of all time.

His painting The Chinese Girl is one of the best selling art prints.

The original was recently auctioned in London for just below R14-million.

Tretchikoff suffered a stroke in 2002 that left him unable to paint and he died in Cape Town in 2006.

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