Simanaitis Says

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ART OUT FRONT—RADIATOR MASCOTS

BACK WHEN RADIATORS weren’t hidden within automotive bodywork, radiator caps could be objets d’art. In their most artistic, these hood ornaments were designed by famous sculptors. Other automotive mascots displayed personal preferences of the car owners. Here’s a selection of radiator mascots, gleaned from Bonham’s Scottsdale Sale of Exceptional Motorcars, January 19, 2012, together with my usual Internet sleuthing. 

The Flying Lady. British sculptor Charles Sykes designed what’s probably the most familiar of automotive mascots, the Spirit of Ecstacy, making its debut on the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost.

Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Spirit of Ecstacy, nickel-plated bronze, 7 1/4 in. high, 1911-1914, by British sculptor Charles Sykes

Latter-day Rolls-Royces defeat souvenir hunters by means of a disappearing Spirit.

An Earthbound Lady. Edmond Laurent Etling and his artisans fabricated Art Deco glass in the Paris suburb of Cloisy-le-Roi. Project Etling cites “his vision and ability to promote and to cater for a long list of noted designers of decorative arts during the 1920s–1930s.” 

Draped Nude, blue/white opalescent glass, 8 in. high, by Lucine Sevin for Etling France, 1932.

Lucine Sevin modeled this gracefully draped woman holding her dress out, her head to one side. 

Automobile Art. The fair sex was often depicted in hood mascots, but automobiles themselves were not neglected, often in fanciful settings. 

Car in the Clouds, nickel on bronze, with turning front wheels, 3 in. high, French, c. 1920.

Aviation Art. Schneider Trophy air racers offered mascot sculptors another theme. I could imagine this Supermarine seaplane, antecedent of the famed Spitfire,  mounted on a Bentley parked dockside. 

Supermarine Schneider Trophy Seaplane, brass, silver-plated, British, 1934.

Brotherly Art. When Ettore Bugatti designed the Royale, his “car of kings,” he honored the memory of his brother Rembrandt: Hood ornaments of these grand machines were modeled after the sculptor’s Dancing Elephant.

Dancing Elephant, in either clear, black, amber, or blue crystal, modeled after the silver hood ornaments cast by Bugatti for the Royale, by Lalique; part of a series of Rembrandt Bugatti’s animal sculptures.

A Pair of Pelicans. I imagine a rakish roadster bearing either of these mascots, parked in front of a lush Palm Beach resort in the roaring 1920s.

Pelican, bronze, silver-plated, 6 1/4 in. high, c. 1930, by French sculptor L. Artus (pseudonym of Max Le Verrier).

To the best of my knowledge (and Nick Georgano’s The Complete Encyclopedia of Motor Cars 1885 to the Present, 1968), there was no Pelican automotive marque. However, “A wonderful bird is the pelican./His bill can hold more than his belican./He can hold in his beak/Enough food for a week,/But I’m damned if I see how the helican.”—Ogden Nash.

Pelican, nickel-plated and incorporating a steam outlet valve; 6 in. high, by French sculptor Max Le Verrier.

A French Comedian. Félicien Tramel, born Antoine Félicien Martel, 1880–1948, was a French actor who portrayed the character Le Bouif in a series of films made between 1921 and 1931.

A. Tramel “Le Bouif,” bronze, 7 in. high, 1925, by X. Benoit.

Le Bouif was an eccentric Parisian singer known for his cheeky expression and hands in his pockets. 

From a Flying (and disappearing) Lady to Le Bouif, there were objets d’art a’plenty pointing the direction of classic automobiles. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020 

One comment on “ART OUT FRONT—RADIATOR MASCOTS

  1. carmacarcounselor
    October 28, 2020

    Of course you have only scratched the surface. I look forward to more installments. One of my favorite activities at concours is mascot hunting. I have a growing collection of images, including an American interpretation of the Spirit of Ecstasy in a decidedly more bawdy style, and a bulldog from a Bentley that the canine cognoscenti will instantly recognize as, of all things, a *French* bulldog!

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