The Story of the Rolls-Royce Emblem
The Rolls-Royce emblem has always been regarded as a perfect symbol of speed, style and grace. The figure of a goddess in the style of Nike, leaning forward into the air, with her wind-blown draperies flowing behind her, has adorned the radiators of Rolls-Royce motor-cars since 1911. During the 1930s there was renewed interest in quality sculpture and Rolls-Royce decided to feature, as part of their marketing, a large ‘Emblem Statue’ in their most prestigious showrooms. Given pride of place amongst the motor-cars on display, the 30-inch high statues were much admired and appreciated.
The history of the creation of the original mascot design, as fitted to the 40/50hp Rolls-Royce ‘Silver Ghost’, is one of time, place and not a little intrigue. In 1902 John Scott Montagu (later 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu) launched a new magazine entitled ‘The Car Illustrated’ and occasionally employed a young artist named Charles Sykes to provide illustrations and cartoons for the publication. However, Sykes had a particular talent and passion for sculpture, and frequently exhibited his work in London’s fashionable Chelsea and Belgravia. When we move forward to 1910, we discover that the Board of Directors of Rolls-Royce was becoming increasingly alarmed by the scant regard being shown by drivers towards their motor-cars, which were often obliged to suffer the indignity of being ‘adorned’ with unseemly soft toys and miniature sculptures of dubious taste, fitted to their radiator grilles and caps as talismans or lucky charms. The Rolls-Royce Board decided that something had to be done, and that a more august and exclusive mascot should be designed. Claude Johnson, a valued friend of John Montagu, was introduced to the work of Charles Sykes, and he subsequently asked Sykes to design a suitable emblem. After several unsuccessful ideas, the Rolls-Royce Board announced the launch of their new mascot in March 1911.
Some years after the death of John Scott Montagu it was revealed that an Edwardian beauty named Eleanor Thornton had been the model for the ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’. This had been a closely guarded secret at the time of the mascot’s creation, for Eleanor was not only Montagu’s personal secretary but also his mistress, and a public scandal had to be avoided at all costs. Claude Johnson had been a close friend of the couple for over a decade, and was well aware of their illicit relationship. He, too, was mesmerised by Eleanor’s beauty, and it was he who suggested to Charles Sykes that she would be the ideal model for the new Rolls-Royce mascot. The love affair between Montagu and Eleanor Thornton came to a tragic end in 1915, when the ship on which they were sailing, H.M.S. Persia, was torpedoed in the eastern Mediterranean. Montagu survived the disaster but, sadly, Eleanor drowned.
When the new Roll-Royce mascot was first shown in public in 1911, Claude Johnson was moved to write:
Mr Sykes had in mind the spirit of ecstasy, who selected road travel as her supreme delight and has alighted on the prow of a Rolls-Royce motor-car to revel in the freshness of the air and the musical sound of her fluttering draperies’.
Today, those same graceful draperies, elegant style and angelic features are faithfully preserved in this new, highly-detailed and hand-finished limited edition statue.
With the approach of the 100th anniversary of the creation of Charles Sykes’s legendary mascot design, Priory Fine Art are thrilled to be offering a limited edition of only twenty-five Rolls-Royce ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ Showroom Statues.