The Chinese Gentleman

Posted by on Jul 21, 2011 in Comment | 1 comment

Extract from “Memoirs of an Australian Woman” by Cecily Crozier.

The painting was charming. A nude, simply standing in front of a most beautiful curtain.

It was rose coloured silk, embroided with silver and gold leaves and flowers and birds in vibrant colours, it was a magnificent piece of hand embroidery. I was so taken with it I asked the painter Peter Armitage its provenance. He told me that a Chinese friend of his had asked him to paint a nude standing in front of it. I felt very proud to have been chosen to be the model for such a special painting. It was a simple pose to stand against the curtain, leaning slightly backwards with my arms at my sides with my hands open as though I was pressing against the curtain.

The painting was exhibited at that years water colour show and had the red sticker on it to show that it had been sold. The painting was masterly and the owner of the curtain bought it at once. It was bigger than most water colours and looked like an oil painting. I would have loved to have it, but all the money I earning at that time went to my mother to help keep the home fires burning.

Peter rang and said “I have an enormous favour to ask of you. You remember my friend? The Chinese gentleman? He asked me if I thought you would like to have dinner with him – he said I just cant believe the colour she is.”

“Peter, it is a bit hard to make up my mind so quickly – you do know him personally don’t you?”

“I have known him for years. He has been coming to England and France for the last 15 years and has a great passion for European art and I believe this to be his last trip here.”

“If you think I would be alright with him, I will say yes.”

We made arrangements for the next Saturday night. “I will meet you and take you to his hotel and introduce him to you. I can’t stay to dinner as I have someone to see on Saturday night too. Thank you. You will be alright with him, he is very old and a most charming person and very au fait with art. He also loves books and speaks perfect English and French.”

On Saturday I met Peter and he took me to one of the top hotels in London. I was glad I had dressed up. We went up to a beautiful suite and with introductions done, Peter departed and I was alone with one of the most delightful people I have ever met. I liked Mr Ch immediately. He seemed a gentle cultured man of about eighty, beautifully dressed in well cut English clothes. We had a delicious dinner starting with pate de foie gras and ending with coffee and petit fours, in other words the best dinner I had eaten since leaving La Belle France. We didn’t stop talking through the meal. He certainly knew his Impressionists. When he heard my exclamations of delight at the appearance of the pate de foie gras he said “Vous parlez le francais?”

“Mais oui Monsieur.” So from then we conversed in French.

“I have something to ask of you” said Mr Ch. “It’s a great favour and I will understand if you don’t want to do this favour for me. Come with me, I have something to show you that you will remember well.”

I felt a bit disappointed as I didn’t much like those words. We walked across the sitting room and into a beautiful bedroom. Mr Ch turned on the lights and I couldn’t believe my eyes. There hanging in all its glory was the self same curtain I most certainly remembered, if only because I had stood for hours before it while Peter painted. Mr Ch laughed at my astonished face. “It was mine” he said “I bought it from China with the painting in mind. Will you stand as before in front of it?”

“Do you mean me to take off my clothes?” I looked hard at him.

“I will keep my promise to Peter. He told me you were called The Untouchable. Would you stand there for an hour and would you trust me?”

I looked at him again. “Yes, I will trust you and I will do as you have asked”

He smiled as if I had given him the crown jewels, said something in Chinese and laughed. “That means thank you in Chinese. Call me when you are ready.”

I hastily disrobed and called him. It was the weirdest thing I had ever done, just to stand there for a solid hour, while he sat there drinking the picture in like champagne. I was glad I had trusted them both and had made the Chinese gentleman very happy.

“I know that Peter is a very good painter. His heeling for colour is as good as any I have ever seen” Mr Ch said to me after I had dressed and was in my right mind again. “I will order some coffee and we will talk some more. I have told my driver to be ready to drive you home. You live near Wembley and that is too far for a girl to go by herself at this hour. Now” he said, “tell me why you don’t like to be touched.”

“I do like to be touched, but not by all and sundry, and mostly because I happen to be nude. I promised that to myself when I started to be a model. I had to make money in a hurry. Speaking French and playing the piano would not have paid enough, so I read an ad and that gave me the idea, so here I am. Some of the people I work for would like to have touched me and I probably would have let them do so, but I am glad that I made this promise to myself. I can feel I like myself still.”

We had another marvelous conversation about painting we both loved. His knowledge was stupendous, I wish I had known him ages ago. When I was ready to go he said “Thank you little Aussie girl, I will never forget you and your generosity in giving me what I wanted.”

I was driven comfortably and warmly home. The next day while I was fixing my bag for the day at work, I found five ten pound notes. I rang Peter and told him what I had found and that I very much wanted to give them back. Peter laughed at me “He left for China this morning and he will not be coming back to Europe again. ‘I am feeling my age Peter’ he said. ‘This trip was the best I have ever had. Thank you for all the pleasure of knowing you and your painting, and thank you for helping me to meet our little Australian girl. I would have liked to take her home with me.’”

 

'Reversal' by Irvine Greene, c. 1941-2, Comment 15

'Reversal' by Irvine Greene, c. 1941-2, Comment 15

One Comment

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  1. hughie scannell

    Brilliant articles David on a brilliant lady. I believe Cecily Crozier (Mrs Heidi) has a nude portrait still hanging in a London art Gallery. I am also very pleased that you two got to publish her biography. She was thrilled to meet you intially re Comment, but she was VERY excited about publishing her life story. I will be googling Memoirs of a Australian woman. I was led to believe her daughter destroyed all the drafts. I knew Mrs Heidi for over forty years from when I was a boy and I worked in her kennels at Long Lo. I admired her so much and she was a second mum to me, and I think the son she never had to her. I have a daughter , Heidi, namaed after her. She TRUELY WAS AN AMAZING LADY!

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