Wife of Tretchikoff, Natalie

A Young Artist’s Crossroads: Love or Ambition?

In the early chapters of “Pigeon’s Luck,” co-authored with Anthony Hocking, Vladimir Tretchikoff’s vivid tales from his youth paint a picture of an artist torn between love and ambition.

Tretchikoff and his brother’s initial dreams were set on the art mecca of Paris. Leaving school and their home in China behind, they ventured forth with hope and determination. However, their finances fell short, and they found themselves anchored in Shanghai. Their ingenuity led them to rent a flat, bringing in other tenants to bolster their income with the ultimate aim of continuing their journey to Paris.

Shanghai, with its bustling streets and vibrant art scene, presented a golden opportunity for the young Tretchikoff. He delved into the world of graphic design, weaving his creativity into advertisements and other commissioned pieces. He recalls, “I started working as a commercial artist, creating pictures and advertisements for clients.” His talent didn’t stop there; he also ventured into cartooning for both Russian and English language magazines, showcasing his versatility as an artist.

But amidst the whirlwind of work and dreams, fate had a surprise in store. At a local dance, Tretchikoff’s world was upended by a chance encounter. “I met the most beautiful woman I had ever seen – Natalie,” he writes. Their relationship blossomed, but it was not without its detractors.

Tretchikoff’s family, concerned about the budding artist’s future, cautioned him against the relationship. Words of warning from a brother echoed in his mind, “You will find yourself married before you even launch your art career.” It was a crossroads moment, a choice between love and a promising career.

A job opportunity as an art director in Singapore presented itself, further complicating the young artist’s dilemma. With a heavy heart, the couple made the difficult decision to part. He kissed Natalie goodbye and left for Singapore by boat. As the voyage progressed, the weight of his decision bore down on him. His emotions, raw and unguarded, are evident in his words: “It was only the next day that the full implications of the step I was taking sank home.”

Upon arriving in Singapore, Tretchikoff was penniless. He describes the bleak moment with candour: “I arrived in Singapore, my finances by now depleted to a single Chinese dollar... I had nothing left in the world.” But he knew what he had to do. He sent Natalie a telegram, asking her to marry him.

Not long after, a response arrived. The crisp paper carried words that made Tretchikoff’s heart leap: a telegram from Natalie, signalling her readiness to join him in matrimony. The joy of the message was, however, tempered by reality. As Tretchikoff candidly shares, “Here I was with a girl ready to marry me and I had not a cent in my pocket.”

Preparing for their life together in Singapore, Tretchikoff left no stone unturned. From finding a home to hiring servants and even buying a car, he worked tirelessly. All on credit, of course.

Fast-forward to the much-anticipated day of Natalie’s arrival in Singapore. Tretchikoff, brimming with excitement, had meticulously planned every detail. However, fate, with its penchant for irony, had other plans. Upon reaching the harbour, Tretchikoff was met with the disheartening sight of the already-docked ship that carried Natalie: “Imagine my dismay, then, when on arriving at the harbour, I saw the ship already berthed.”

The ensuing moments were a blur. Tretchikoff’s frantic search for Natalie ended with the jarring realisation that she had already disembarked. Their reunion, when it finally happened, was not the romantic scenario he had envisioned. Natalie, having faced the scrutiny and whispers of fellow passengers, was hurt and felt abandoned. “The whole ship knew I was going to be married... And you didn’t turn up. They all thought I was jilted,” she lamented.

The couple did get married and Tretchikoff recalls Natalie’s reaction to his efforts: “‘This is all ours?’ she asked. ‘Of course it is,’ I responded. ‘Now let’s see,’ she mused. ‘You have a car, a chauffeur, more servants, a house furnished from top to bottom... Where did all this come from? Did you rob a bank or something?’”

This was 1935, and they remained married unit Tretchikoff’s death on 26 August 2006. Natalie died on 18 July 2007, less than a year after her beloved husband.

Back to blog