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Chinese Girl muse was not impressed with portrait

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May 07, 2013 | 12:58pm EDT

The model who posed for Vladimir Tretchikoff's iconic Chinese Girl portrait has revealed she hated the painting the first time she saw it - because the artist made her look monstrous. The portrait, which is often referred to as The Green Lady, went under the hammer for almost $1.5 million (£1 million) at an auction in London recently, but the woman behind the artwork admits she wasn't thrilled at first glance. Monika Pon-su-san, who was working in her uncle's laundry in Cape Town, South Africa when she was discovered by the artist, tells the BBC, "I thought I looked like a monster from a horror film. I pulled an ugly face and said 'Ugh, green face!'" Recalling the sessions with Tretchikoff, she adds, "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." As for the mournful expression on her face, Pon-su-san explains, "A lot of people ask me, 'What is that stern look you had on your face? What were you thinking about?' And I always say, 'Well, you know, one gets tired sitting and just looking.' "All the time I was thinking about Tretchikoff's life, because he had had a miserable life. During the war he'd been on a boat for three weeks without food, after his ship was bombed. Then he was imprisoned by the Japanese. He had lost contact with his wife and daughter. Thinking they were dead, he took a lover, but they weren't dead, and, as fate would have it, they went to Cape Town, which is where he ended up too. So they got back together again." She adds, "I liked him very much. He was a funny man. We always laughed a lot. In all, I was paid six pounds and five shillings for the work... On the night his exhibition opened that he said it (portrait) was called Chinese Girl. I thought that was very ordinary."

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