One of the social highlights of this year was the unveiling yesterday of Vladimir Tretchikoff’s ‘The Chinese Girl’, South Africa’s most internationally recognised painting, at its new home at Delaire Graff in Stellenbosch, which celebrates its 10th year of being in Mr Graff’s ownership. The 40th Graff jewellery store was also opened at the wine estate, the first in Africa.
Delaire was bought by Laurence Graff OBE in 2003, and he invested a lot of money in setting up a cellar, a winetasting centre, the main restaurant, and investing in interior design created by the late David Collins from London. The Boutique Hotel followed, which houses Indochine and the Spa, also decorated by Collins. Commendable has been Mr Graff’s investment in South African art, and his William Kentridge dominates the main restaurant, while Lionel Smit’s work is striking, a four-piece work as well as a portrait of Mr Graff dominating the reception of the main building.
The 80 guests were welcomed in the foyer by GM Johann Laubser, where he introduced the team that helped to create the event, a second fundraising event having been held last night, generating funds for FACET, a charity which Mr Graff created. Graff has diamond stores all over the world, including in London, Monte Carlo, Geneva, Moscow, St Petersburg, New York, San Francisco, Dubai, Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, Seoul,Taipei, and now in Stellenbosch. The newest 54 square meter store is inside the main Delaire Graff restaurant and tasting room building, to the left of the reception desk, which has been shortened by half to make space for the Graff jewellery store, designed by the Graff Monaco-based interior design team. The interior design detail draws inspiration from African and Cape Dutch styling. One of the jewellery ranges is called Bulls Eye, and was an intricate circular diamond design, with a red stone in the centre, perfectly named! The peach pip flooring, which runs down the passage, was extended to surround the Graff Jewellery store, a process which I observed on a previous visit to the building.
We moved through to the main restaurant, where The Chinese Girl had been set up on an easel. It was mentioned that Tretchikoff’s daughter Mimi Mercorio and granddaughter Natasha Swift were also present. The granddaughter had organised an extensive exhibition of Tretchikoff’s work in the SA National Gallery in 2011, with the assistance of University of Cape Town Michaelis School of Fine Art Senior Lecturer Andre Lamprecht. Lamprecht introduced the work, and said that an oil painting has permanence, compared to prints which tend to fade. He described Tretchikoff as a genius, in recognising that people wanted art around them, and he wanted to share it via his prints. Even Mr Graff grew up with Tretchikoff’s work, the first art awareness of many young persons. He said: ‘As a young man, I noticed the image of Tretchikoff’s Chinese Girl continuously displayed in many different locations in print form. It was the first piece of art that made an impact on me, and I believe ignited my interest and passion for art. You can imagine my surprise to have learned of the sale of the original painting and of course, my decision to buy it was immediate’. The Chinese Girl was placed on the same level as the Mona Lisa in its popularity. Mr Lamprecht thanked Mr Graff for bringing the painting back to South Africa from Chicago, which Tretchikoff will have sold to the family on his exhibition tour of his work in the USA in the ‘Fifties. He was also praised for having such significant South African art in his collection.
Boris Gorelik was introduced, having written the ‘first independent biography’ about Tretchikoff. There was a ‘mystery’ about The Chinese Girl, he said, and where it had landed. The daughter of the family that had bought it saw it on TV, and so learnt of its value. The painting became an ‘icon of popular culture of the 20th century’, having been created in Cape Town sixty years ago. Stephan Welz, art expert and auctioneer, expressed that art is taking the place of religion, which is the true definition of ‘iconic’. Funny was when Neil Pendock asked whether The Chinese Girl would become the new Irma Stern, introducing himself not as a wine writer but from the (petite) ‘Pendock Wine Gallery’! Welz felt that Tretchikoff is more valuable (with a price tag of R13 million for The Chinese Girl), as ‘exotic and erotic art’ sells! The green in the face was the artist’s experiment, and he created a version without the coloured face, but print sales showed the popularity of the former. Welz also saluted Mr Graff for his confidence in South Africa, and for having created such a superb estate, which is a ‘monument to a great man, in what he has done for art and South Africa’. Mr Welz and the sitter for The Chinese Girl painting, Monika Pon-Su-San, who flew down from Johannesburg with her family, unveiled The Chinese Girl (sometimes called The Green Lady) to applause. An interview with the BBC earlier this year revealed that Tretchikoff walked into the laundry of Monika’s uncle, and asked to paint her. She wore a blue gown when he painted her, but he changed the colour while painting her.
We moved outside, to enjoy lunch on the terrace. Chef Christiaan Campbell and his team, which made the Eat Out Top 20 shortlist, with their sister restaurant Indochine, prepared unusual and beautifully plated dishes, the starter and main course in particular. The canapés were beautiful, the salmon trout each having an edible flower. The starter was farmed kob, smoked hake millet ‘risotto’, fennel bulb, and flavours of citrus, which was paired with Delaire Graff Coastal Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc, with sound effects of ohs and ahs! My first ever Delaire dish I ate at the main restaurant was a crayfish lasagne, which sadly has disappeared off the menu, but I remembered it when eating the main course of lamb neck and goats cheese lasagne with pickled globe artichokes, paired with Delaire Graff Botmaskop. The dessert was summer berries, crème fraîche, short bread, meringues, and jelly, paired with Delaire Graff Cape Vintage.
The new Graff jewellery store and the public display of The Chinese Girl will make Delaire Graff even more attractive as a destination for locals as well as tourists to visit.
Disclosure: The media pack contained a bottle of Delaire Graff Sauvignon Blanc 2012.
POSTSCRIPT 16/12: The Sunday Times has provided some additional information about the painting. It was reproduced 500000 times; it is to be seen in the ‘The Stars‘ music video by David Bowie; it has hung on the walls of houses in movies such as ‘Monty Python‘, ‘Frenzy‘, and ‘Alfie‘ (1966); he exhibited his works at Harrods, seen by more than 200000; he had his work sold by door to door salesmen!; and he had a total of 252 exhibitions seen by more than 2 million.
Delaire Graff Restaurant, Delaire Graff Estate, Helshoogte Pass, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 885-8160. www.delaire.co.za
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage