As Jane and I drive the roads across Victoria and into New South Wales I am reminded that I promised to bring you a post on the Spirit of Ecstasy - the mascot on the Rolls-Royce cars which featured in our March Mailbag.
In response to the mailbag item Monica in Tanzania said:
Hello there! The information that the mascot on the Rolls Royces represented "The Spirit of Ecstasy" really stirred my imagination, so I went to the Website to learn more. She has changed slightly over the years, but the model that to me epitomises ecstasy is the one of the Spirit leaning forward from the hips, and flinging her arms back, parallel to her wings! She is flying, - rising to unlimited heights of joy! I guess that the owners of these cars, that can only be described with superlatives, felt the same! I keenly look forward to your feature on " The Spirit of Ecstasy!" M.B. Tanzania
But how did the Spirit of Ecstacy come about?
The first Rolls-Royce motorcars did not feature radiator mascots; they simply carried the Rolls-Royce emblem. When John, 2nd Baron Montagu commissioned his friend, sculptor Charles Robinson Sykes, who worked in London under the nobleman's patronage, to sculpt a personal mascot for the bonnet of his 1909 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, Sykes chose Eleanor Velasco Thornton as his model.1
Sykes originally crafted a figurine of Eleanor in fluttering robes, having placed one forefinger against her lips – to symbolize the secret of their love affair.The figurine was consequently named The Whisper and is on display at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu along with other Spirit of Ecstasy figurines. Only three or four castings were ever made, and only two are believed to have survived. 2
Montagu, who eventually became Managing Director of Rolls-Royce, commissioned Sykes to create an official mascot for Rolls-Royce, and asked for it to be modeled like the famous ancient Greek statue known as the Nike of Samothrace. 2
Sykes created his final design blending elements of the Greek statue with his own The Whisper. Here the history isn't clear whether Sykes' muse was once again Thornton, or perhaps even his mother, Hannah Sykes, who some have claimed shares a resemblance to the hood ornament. Some have also suggested that Sykes used his imagination to create his own ideal female physique. 2
The first official mascot for the Rolls-Royce was called The Spirit of Speed... Later, Charles Sykes called it "A graceful little goddess, the Spirit of Ecstasy, who has selected road travel as her supreme delight and 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."1
I haven't been able to locate an image of The Spirit of Speed but I believe it looked similar to the Spirit of Ecstasy which was officially registered on 6 February 1911 as the intellectual property of Rolls-Royce.4
Over the years the mascot has gradually decreased in size as shown in the illustration below.
The design of the mascot has had eleven main variations in its life. Lowered height of coachwork forced subsequent reductions in the mascot size. Consequently, several alterations in the original design were made. 1
Sykes was once again commissioned by Rolls-Royce in the 1930s to make a lower version of the mascot to suit the needs of the new sports saloons by providing their drivers with a clearer view of the road ahead.
The Kneeling version of the Spirit of Ecstasy was made in 1934-1939 and 1946-1956 for the Phantom IV radiator. The kneeling lady mascot was unveiled on 26 January 1934 and was as undeniably a reflection of Eleanor as it was a symbol of the Rolls-Royce. It also bore on the plinth the inscription "C. Sykes, 26.1.34", the date when the first piece was finished. This version was, however, discontinued after the Silver Dawn, Phantom IV and Silver Wraith models, in favour of a smaller version of the original standing mascot, and so it remains to date. The last Phantom IV delivered and the final 4 or 5 years of the Silver Wraith carried this standing version.1
Today's Spirit of Ecstasy, from the 2003 Phantom model onward, stands at 3 inches (7.6 cm) and, for the safety of any person being accidentally hit, is mounted on a spring-loaded mechanism designed to retract instantly into the radiator shell if struck from any direction. There is a button within the vehicle which can raise/lower the emblem when pressed. She can be made from highly polished stainless steel, stainless with 24-carat gold plating, or from illuminated frosted crystal – the latter two being optional extras. Aftermarket customized versions are also available, including those covered in a matte black paint or studded in diamonds!! The company created one as a Fabergé Egg. 1
The Spirit of Ecstasy referred to by Monica is most likely the one shown below from the 1911-1914 period. She is very beautiful and exemplifies the passionate narrative that underlies her creation and permanence: with her arms stretched out as if in flight and her sight firmly focused on the road ahead she embraces all that the joy of driving on an open road offers.
The Spirit of Ecstasy is moving with the times and has been resigned for the electric vehicle era.
Eleanor died on 30 December 1915 when the SS Persia was torpedoed by a U-boat south of Crete. She had been accompanying Lord Montagu who had been directed to assume a command in India. He was thought to have been killed too, but survived and was saved after several days adrift in a life raft.1
Like Monica I found the Spirit of Ecstasy so enticing! Reading Monica's description reminded me that when my brother and I were very young my favouirte aunt allowed us to ride standing on the top of the front seats of her little Hillman which had a sliding roof allowing our heads and shoulders to protrude out the top!! I know what it felt like to have the Spirit of Ectasy!!
As Jane and I continue our travels we will keep our eyes open for a Rolls rolling along on the highway but somehow I don't expect we will see one on the route we are taking into the outback. But you never know!!
Jane and I on our last day in Broken Hill called in to revisit the Pro Hart Gallery with a post coming up soon on this artist. But I must tell you that we have now seen not one but three Rolls-Royce cars and their Spirit of Ecstasy mascots! No - not purring down an outback road but in the Pro Hart Gallery - I had forgotten that Pro not only loved these cars but even painted one!
Thank you Pro for reminding us how closely a love of machines and art are so closely interrelated and how indulging in both can bring on the spirit of ecstasy!!