Goodwood Park Hotel’s Eastern Fantasy & Raffles Hotel’s Shanghai Lily
Today a white Russian is a sweet tasting, 1960’s cocktail made from vodka, coffee liqueur and cream. Apart from vodka the drink hasn’t any Russian origin. Culturally more significant in the 20th century were the White Russian émigrés. They were supporters of the Tsarist government deposed in the 1917 Russian Revolution and enemies of the ‘red’ Bolsheviks. Many were members of the armed forces, the nobility or pro-establishment public figures. Those who could escaped to Europe. When Vladivostok in the east fell to the communists most whites fled across the Chinese border to Harbin. In 1924 Peking recognised the new Soviet government leaving stateless those who refused the offer of Soviet citizenship. Many then headed to Shanghai and other treaty ports in China. Treated as second class citizens they ended up working in service, the lucky ones as policemen, security guards, private bodyguards, seamstresses, music teachers and language instructors. For those without marketable skills conditions were often pitiful as Charlie Chaplin noted on his 1931 visit to Shanghai:
‘I came across a number of titled aristocrats who had escaped the Russian Revolution. They were destitute and without a country; their status was of the lowest grade, the men ran rickshaws and the women worked in ten cent dance halls. When the second world war broke out, many of the old aristocrats had died and the younger generation migrated to Hong Kong where their plight was even worse.’
In Hong Kong most remained stateless managing to escape internment during the Japanese occupation. Traces of their stay remain through the Queen’s Café in North Point, Cherikoff’s bakery in Prince Edward and Hongkongers fondness for borscht soup. After the Second World War the White Russians moved on again to America, Australia, Canada or elsewhere.
In Shanghai one of the most famous White Russians was Georgii Avskent’ievich Sapojnikoff, an ex-officer in the Russian Imperial Army with a pronounced limp from his wounds in World War One. He worked as a cartoonist on the North China Daily News under the pen name Sapajou. The paper was regarded as the mouthpiece of the British controlled Shanghai Municipal Council and it was a measure of Sapajou’s social acceptance that he was a member of the exclusive Shanghai Club famed for having the longest bar in the world. For 15 years he published a daily cartoon along with several albums containing sketches of Shanghai life that are now highly collectible. Despite being a stateless refugee Sapajou was a dapper man about town popular with the ladies who regarded him as a distinguished Russian gentleman. After the war and the communist takeover of Shanghai in 1949 he was evacuated by the United Nations with other White Russians to a displaced persons camp on Tubabao in the Philippine Islands. Already seriously ill he died shortly after arrival.
Sapajou – self caricature of the artist at work.
The Long Bar in the Shanghai Club, cartoon by Friedrich Schiff. The mahogany L-shaped bar was 110.7 feet by 39 feet. It had a strict hierarchy with the Bund facing end reserved for the richest tai-pans.
Born in 1913 Vladimir Tretchikoff was another talented White Russian who became one of the world’s richest and most famous artists. Self-taught, Tretchikoff painted portraits, still life, and animals, the subjects inspired by his wandering lifestyle in China, Singapore, Indonesia and later South Africa. Popular with the general public, he was nicknamed the ‘King of Kitsch’ by art critics and is best known for his works that were turned into reproduction prints.
Vladimir Tretchikoff (1913-2006) painting Miss Wong in 1950.
Orphaned at a young age he moved from Harbin to Shanghai working as an art director and illustrator for an American advertising and publishing company. After marrying a fellow Russian émigré the couple moved to Singapore where he worked for the Straits Times. On the outbreak of World War 2 Tretchikoff was a propaganda artist for the British Ministry of Information. Escaping the fall of Singapore in February 1942 his ship was sunk by the Japanese en route to South Africa. The 42 survivors rowed to Java but were captured and imprisoned in Serang. Tretchikoff was released on parole after convincing the Japanese he was a stateless anti-communist. In Batavia (now Jakarta) he met a Eurasian lady Leonora Schmidt-Salomonson who became his lover and one of his most famous models posing for Eastern Fantasy in 1943.
Eastern Fantasy 1943 by Vladimir Tretchikoff. The traditional Indonesian kris (wavy dagger) and bible on the table symbolising mixed heritage are often overlooked.
At the end of the war Tretchikoff was reunited with his wife and daughter in South Africa after discovering they had been evacuated on an earlier boat. It was there in 1952 that he painted his Chinese Girl modelled by Monika Pon-su-san, who was working in a laundry near his home. The painting is one of the best-selling prints of the twentieth century believed to have sold more prints than either Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers. The original painting sold for £982,050 at Bonhams auction house in London in March 2013. Vladimir Tretchikoff died in Cape Town in 2006.
The Chinese Girl (popularly known as The Green Lady) 1952. Trechikoff was immensely popular with the public but scorned by art critics. Bonhams Magazine, Spring 2013 ‘Love it or loathe it’.
Vivian Bath, owner of the Goodwood Park Hotel in Singapore had bought Eastern Fantasy from the artist in 1948 for $450. The hotel on Scotts Road opened in 1900 as the Teutonia Club for members of the expatriate German community. During the First World War it was seized by the British government in Singapore and auctioned off in 1918 to the Jewish Manasseh brothers. In 1929 the building was turned into a hotel and during World War II was occupied by senior officers of the Japanese Imperial Army. After the war the Singapore War Crimes Court conducted trials in a tent on the hotel grounds and Ezekiel Manasseh’s Australian stepson Vivian Bath bought out the brother’s shares becoming sole proprietor.
In 1989 the hotel’s Rhineland style tower block was gazetted as a national monument and the Eastern Fantasy hangs in the tower’s boardroom. The life size painting’s model remained unknown until 1989 when a Dutch / Indonesian lady Mrs Leonora Schmidt then 74 visited the hotel -(‘Semi-nude portrait poser answered – 46 years later’, The Straits Times 21st October 1989).
Known to Tretchikoff as Lenka she met him in Java in 1942 posing for the painting the following year. She revealed another link with the hotel having worked there as an interpreter when it was the headquarters of British war crimes trials. She returned to Indonesia in 1949, married and went to live in Holland.
The Raffles Hotel on Beach Road is also a national monument re-opening in 1991 after two years of extensive renovation. The famous Long Bar was relocated from the lobby to a new adjoining shopping arcade losing its character in the process. According to the hotel’s publicity the polished wooden furniture, cane and rattan chairs and mechanically operated palm leaf fans were inspired by the décor of 1920’s Malayan plantations. The tiled floors make it easy to sweep up the shells of groundnut shells swept off the mahogany bar top. The bar also takes its inspiration from 1930’s Shanghai when the Shanghai Club on the Bund housed the original Long Bar now recreated at the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai.
The Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel.
Like a western saloon the centrepiece of Singapore’s Long bar is a slightly risqué painting of a reclining female named by the hotel as Shanghai Lily. Shanghai Lily was in fact the character played by Marlene Dietrich in the 1932 Hollywood movie ‘Shanghai Express’.
Shanghai Lily & the Singapore Sling.
The Long Bar is one of the world’s famous bars but most of what is written about it is pure marketing fantasy. It took several visits to realise it was more a shopping arcade backdrop to take pictures sipping expensive, pre-mixed cocktails than a real bar. There are no longer any ship’s captains, rubber planters or remittance men letting off steam amongst the potted plants on the verandah.
The Goodwood Park Hotel relies on the reputation of its fine dining more than its bar scene and wandering around I couldn’t spot Tretchikoff’s painting. The hotel staff confirmed that Eastern Fantasy was owned by the hotel but sadly no longer on public display or available for private viewing.
‘A Countess from Hong Kong’ 1967 starring Sophia Loren & Marlon Brando. Charlie Chaplin’s final film based on the life of a former White Russian aristocrat. It was filmed entirely on sets at Pinewood Studios in UK and panned by critics on its release.