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Vladimir Tretchikoff's unique rendition of Prima Ballerina Assoluta, Alicia Markova

  10 May 2013     Archived

Johannesburg: Dying Swan by Vladimir Tretchikoff, one of the most commercially successful artists of our time, will be sold by leading auction house, Strauss & Co, on 20 May 2013

The model for the painting, Dame Alicia Markova, is depicted entwined with the bird she portrayed, the two inseparable as she dies at the end of the performance. Alicia Markova was an English ballerina, choreographer director, teacher of classical ballet and founder of the English National Ballet. Together with Dame Margot Fonteyn, she is one of only two English dancers to be recognised as a prima ballerina assoluta, a title given only to the most notable of female ballet dancers.

Dying Swan was painted in 1949, when Alicia Markova and her partner Anton Dolin were in South Africa, on a sponsored tour with the London Royal Ballet. Upon seeing her performance as the ‘Dying Swan’ in ‘Swan Lake’, Tretchikoff was so deeply moved and captivated by her that he requested, through a friend, if he might paint her. He invited the ballerina and her manager to his studio and they were both so enthused by his work that Alicia, despite her heavy schedule, offered all her free time to pose for him. In order to complete the work, Tretchikoff was required to join the entourage. When in Johannesburg, he stayed at the Carlton Hotel and was given the premier suite to use as a studio where most of the painting and posing was done. Alicia’s patience and co-operation had a great influence on the artist and inspired him to produce a work of exceptional quality.

When the company moved to Pretoria, Tretchikoff watched Alicia dance once again with the same fervour he had experienced previously. When Anton Dolin noticed him at the concert he asked him if he was back to see ‘the dance of the Dying Duck’, stating that ‘in the business that’s the nickname for the Dying Swan’. A bemused Tretchikoff responded ‘I’ve got news for you. You know the swan in the painting? I couldn’t get the real thing, so I painted it from a dead duck.’

Experts are agreed that the swan’s head in the painting is that of a duck. As for the owner, given what he is expected to get from the sale of the painting, he can certainly claim his duck has turned into a swan.

Lady Lynn Bagnall
Dance Transition Resources Centre (DTRC), Toronto 1999 (donated by Mr Todd Edgar, nephew of Lady Bagnall)
34Long Art Gallery, Cape Town, 2005
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2008

Tretchikoff, Vladimir and Hocking, Anthony. Pigeon’s Luck. William Collins Sons & Co Ltd, London, Glasgow, Sydney, Auckland, Toronto, Johannesburg. 1973. pp. 188-190.

Media Liaison
Bina Genovese / 083 680 9944



Auction of South African & International Art
Monday 20 May 2013

The Wanderer’s Club, 21 North Street, Illovo, Johannesburg

On view three days prior

Enquiries & Catalogues: 011 728 8246 / 079 367 0637 /



Vladimir Griegorovich Tretchikoff (South African 1913-2006)
The Dying Swan
signed, dated 49 and inscribed ‘SA’
oil on canvas
92,5 by 72cm
R800 000 – 1 200 000


2013 Press Archive

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