Some positions are dream jobs. Let’s say that you’re a car guy and that you like to paint and that you also happen to live in France. What could be a better job than being the official artist of the 24 Hours of LeMans race? François Bruère is that car guy and that’s his dream job. I first came across François while he was setting up his display at the automotive art show & sale that was part of the Concours of America at St. John’s festivities in suburban Detroit. Bruère has spent 30 years refining a style that combines hyperrealistic renderings of automobiles with sepia toned backgrounds, often historic, that give his work a distinctive, immediately recognizable style.
In addition to showing his works regularly at the Concours, Bruère has also been commissioned by the Concours to produce a poster of this year’s two Best of Show winners. The American winner was a 1933 Chrysler Imperial CL Sport Phaeton owned by Joseph and Margie Cassini, and the Foreign winner was also a 1933 model, a Delage D8S Coupe Roadster owned by the Patterson Collection. In a manner of speaking Bruère’s painting is one artist rendering the work of other artists, though they worked with steel and chrome instead of paint and canvas. Both of those cars have custom bodies. The D8S was was a design exercise, a concept car if you will, a collaboration between Delage and one of the most prestigious French coachbuilders, Carrosserie de Villars, for the 1934 Paris auto salon. The Chrysler has a body made by the equally prestigious American coachbuilder LeBaron. The car and its provenance are unique. By 1933 LeBaron was part of the Briggs body company and it was being run by designer Ralph Roberts, who would go on to design Chrysler’s dual cowl Newport show cars. This Imperial Sport Phaeton (it’s not quite a dual cowl body since the rear passenger’s windshield cranks down into the thin panel behind the front seat) was customized by LeBaron per Roberts’ direction and given by him as a present for his wife. An automotive rara avis : a one of one designer’s car, an already custom car further customized by the factory. The Imperial was part of the esteemed collection of the Milhous brothers and the Cassinis paid $1.21 million for it last February.
The Chrysler dominates the painting, sitting in front of the Delage in the foreground while in the background is the valet entrance and bell tower of St. John’s, a former seminary. Because of Bruère’s sepia tone backgrounds, the Chrysler particularly stands out since the white Delage tends to blend in. It’s not surprising that the artist highlighted the Chrysler. It’s an impressive car, one of the first American cars to have a hood that extended to the base of the windshield. Roberts had earlier done a proposal for Lincoln with that cowl-less feature that had been rejected by Edsel Ford so he just parked it in the garage at LeBaron’s Detroit facility. Later, when Walter P. Chrysler was at the same garage inspecting a proposal for the Imperial, he saw the Lincoln and told Roberts that was what he wanted. Already sleek by 1930s standards, Roberts customized his wife’s car with lengthened front fenders and skirted fenders in the back, lowered headlights, “French disc” wheel covers, and a radiator shell that was painted, not chromed. Also, Roberts moved the sidemounted spare tires to the back of the car.
Though I think he has the color a bit more aqua than the darker steel greyish green of my own photos of the car, Bruère captures the magnificent Chrysler quite well. If you want a copy of the poster, you’ll have to wait until next year’s concours. In the meantime, though, you can buy signed prints of the poster Bruère did of an Auburn roadster for the 2006 show as well as other historic show posters at the Concours’ web site store, starting next week. Bruère sells prints of his other works at his own website, Orpheograff.com.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS