The Spirit of Ecstasy, the famous Rolls-Royce mascot that has adorned the radiator of every Rolls-Royce since 1911, marks its 100th anniversary this year. In line with this significant symbol of motoring history as well as its links with the Montagu family, a new exhibition will be launched in the family home of Palace House on May 5, 2011.
In essence, the exhibition explores the connections of motoring pioneer John Montagu to Charles Sykes, his British artist and sculptor friend, and to Eleanor Thornton, his London-based mistress and secretary.
Managing Director Claude Johnson of Rolls-Royce, in 1910, commissioned Sykes to create a mascot “that belonged to the (Rolls-Royce) car as much as a carved wooden figurehead belonged to a sailing vessel.”
Thornton was widely believed to be the inspiration for the iconic mascot that Sykes created. She did not live to see the international success of the icon designed in her image. In 1915, while traveling to India with Lord Montagu aboard the P&O liner SS Persia, the ship was attacked by a German U-Boat.
Thornton died but Lord Montagu survived and went back to England. He was distressed in grief but was not unable to openly mourn for his mistress. Another mascot that Sykes designed for Montagu, entitled The Whisper, immortalized the secret love affair between Eleanor and the married John.
The icon shows a young woman, who was believed to be based on Eleanor, with a secretive forefinger pressed to her lips. The exhibition will also display the original artwork of Sykes such as the special edition covers for The Car Illustrated magazine, edited by Montagu.
Several original bronzes will also be showcased. The exhibition will be one that should not be missed considering that original artworks and ephemera to be showcased are rarely seen in public.
Rolls-Royce is set to mark a commemorative year through the special production of all Ghost and Phantom cars from their home in Goodwood. These cars will be marked with the Spirit of Ecstasy Centenary – a 2011 inscription on the base of the Spirit of Ecstasy bonnet ornament. A special ITC Willow font is expected to be used for this.
Rolls-Royce has also set up exclusive events to celebrate their commemorative year. A February 6 central London drive through will be hosted to honour the date when Charles Sykes registered the Spirit of Ecstasy design. One hundred classic and modern Rolls-Royce cars will be driven, passing by significant landmarks including their original home in Conduit Street and their current home in Berkeley Square.
Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars said that the Spirit of Ecstasy, the elegant adornment on the bonnet of every Rolls-Royce might be the most well-known automotive figure of all time. As "an inspiration for the founding fathers” of Rolls-Royce, as well as their privileged owners and automotive connoisseurs throughout the company’s history, the Spirit of Ecstasy symbol remains relevant for the fortunate people in the company who continue to make “the world's most exclusive and desirable cars."