Collecting motoring art: The paper chase

Now they’re prized display items, but once they were just jobs to be done in a hurry. Gordon Cruickshank looks at racing illustrations and motoring art

1924 Lyons Grand Prix by Frederick Gordon Crosby

Instant drama: Frederick Gordon Crosby’s rapid rendering from the 1924 Lyons GP sold for £5100

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Motoring art has been with us as long as the motor, even if in early days it was often as the butt of cartoon jokes – just look at Punch. But some of it has become highly prized – and of course very collectible.

From years past, the lithographs of Montaut and Gamy (as on the Michelin building in London) are some of the bestknown images of Edwardian racing, and you can buy one of these period prints for a few hundred pounds. Between the wars two names tower over the others, as Bonhams automobilia expert Toby Wilson confirms.

“Pre-World War II, the two great names are Frederick Gordon Crosby of The Autocar and Bryan de Grineau of The Motor. Both were commercial artists and though allied to magazines also took on commission work. As well as his magazine illustrations Crosby did cartoons, pencil sketches, watercolours, front covers for racing programmes and posters. But in this department we only handle the artwork itself, and it’s eagerly sought.

“In March we sold a Crosby monochrome gouache of the 1924 Lyons GP for £5100, while back in 2004 a charcoal of a Peugeot/Sunbeam chase in the 1912 GP de Dieppe made £13,800.”

Remember that these were hurried jobs to illustrate the race reports in next week’s Autocar, then carelessly stacked up in the editorial office. Mostly in black and white, in gouache and ink, they were not seen as ‘fine art’, yet their urgent style and unfinished edges lend them a drama that makes a great display. Often the artwork wasn’t signed because it was going in a magazine, so the signature of one of the big names is a significant boost to authenticity and price.

“These were hurried jobs, carelessly stacked up in the office”

“You have to wait until after the war for other great names to emerge, like Roy Nockolds and Frank Wootton, a superb aviation artist who also turned his hand to motoring.”

Buying a Crosby is beyond most of us, but some of today’s artists are worth keeping an eye on. “Lately I’ve noticed Alan Stammers’ pencil work, and there’s Michael Wright, Barry Rowe and Alfredo de la Maria,” says Toby. Perhaps the dean of current art is Michael Turner, who has been producing his dramatic and highly accurate images since the 1950s. “Then there’s Dexter Brown,” continues Toby. “Highly prized and very adaptable. As de Bruyne he paints beautiful watercolours of Edwardian scenes, and as Dexter Brown he paints wonderful abstract images using palette knives and brushes.”

According to Toby, lockdown has changed the market. “People’s confidence in buying over the internet has vastly increased. Before, many said they had to see the item. Now that’s changed.”

If you’re buying, a good source is Tony Clark’s motoringart.info, which lists many UK artists and advises on collecting and looking after artwork – including looking out for fakes. It happens in our world too.

 


Walter Gotschke

Germany’s Walter Gotschke was self-taught, but became one of the masters in automotive art. His style veers towards the impressionistic, yet the people are believable and cars depicted are always accurate and recognisable. Showing Trintignant pulling into the pits in his Simca-Gordini in the 1951 Albi Grand Prix, this is one of four paintings sold as a lot at July’s Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Sold £2167

Bonhams’ Festival of Speed sale

 


Peter Helck

In the States the pre-eminent name in motoring art is that of Peter Helck, a racing fan from the 1910s on who illustrated countless articles and books as well as adverts and posters. He worked in England too, attending races in France and Italy. His colourful grand canvases are full of action; this simpler monochrome original illustration depicts an early racer missing a junction watched by gleeful rivals.
For sale, £5725

The Illustrated Gallery

 


Russell Brockbank

Punch’s art editor from 1949-60, Russell Brockbank is best known for his motoring cartoons, often published in The Motor. Not only are they accurate depictions of cars, but they’re amusing as well. This one, of a passenger in a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost dismissively striking a match on the roof of a mere Cadillac, appeared in Punch in 1956 and came up at Goodwood’s Festival sale.
Sold £637

Bonhams’ Festival of Speed sale

 


Arthur Benjamins

Although he has lately switched to abstract art, Dutch-born Arthur Benjamins’ racing paintings have gained a strong reputation in Europe and the United States. Here, in a large work using airbrush on canvas, he depicts engineer/ designer/driver Frank Lockhart’s ultimately ill-fated Land Speed Record attempt at Daytona Beach in his super-streamlined Stutz Black Hawk, powered by twin Miller engines.
For sale £7387

Saatchi Art

 


My prized possession

Eurocup medal & gear

Scott Malvern, British GT3 ace and pro driver coach

Formula Ford Eurocup medal

“My choice has pretty much no monetary value, but is sentimental to me as a highlight of my career. In 2011 Ford revived the Formula Ford Eurocup, which brought the best drivers from the British, Benelux and Scandinavian championships together for four rounds. I won the first at Brands Hatch and the second was at Spa. I was aiming for my 10th consecutive win in race one – which would be a series record – but my gearbox broke in qualifying so I had to start last.

Despite that I won the race by over two seconds! After, I asked my Jamun Racing mechanic Tom Huxtable if I could have the broken gear. It’s been attached to the race winner’s medal ever since as a reminder of one of my best drives.”