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The Art of Racing
DAVID ECCLES describes some of his favourite works of art which take cycle sport as their subject.
Nos Cyclistes (artist unknown)
Looking like a French milliner's fashion-plate c.1890, this picture of a ladies' Ordinary race is probably pure fancy - or wishful thinking, given its overtly risqué nature - on the part of the unknown artist. The scene has been overlaid with the aura of fashionable horse-racing with its elegant Longchamps grandstand, notice-boards for the odds and the riders' jockey-caps- cum-bonnets. That the winner's immodest posture as she flings a well-developed leg over the bars to slow down her machine was calculated to titillate and shock is clear from the reaction of the top-hatted spectator with his binoculars and the more genteel lady behind who appears to be fainting away in horror.
Frank Patterson, Time-Trial Drawing
This is one of 'Pat's' simpler sketches, which with his masterly control of line and tone, vividly evokes the excitement of riding against the clock. The rider, clad in traditional black alpaca and with spare tyre round his shoulders, is no doubt doing a 100, or a 12-hour, or even attempting one of the distance records, hence the need for the feeding bottle. The helper's baggy plusses - note the 'shake' in the outline - and his patterned stockings put the illustration in the 30s. The violent perspective of the country lane emphasised by the receding telegraph poles unconsciously recall the old Startrite Clarkes Shoes advertisement... this chap has 'far to go'.
William Roberts c.1930
There is only just not going to be a pile-up here. Roberts delights in the sunny colours of the riders (three maillots jaunes?) and the lively patterns created by their cycles, especially the curly contortions of the drops which wriggle about like snakes. Of course, there won't be a crash, all the ingredients of the composition are poised in a moment of perfect equilibrium and look as though they have been happily immortalised in plasticene. Messers Obree and Burroughs would doubtless admire those impossibly narrow rear dropouts, though. (Collection Ulster Museum, N Ireland)
Green's unusually shaped paintings invariably exude a hint of fetishism of sorts. In this self-portrait, which is one of a set of five, is not more suggested than the simple fantasy of being the hero of the Skol Six-Day track meeting? The glamour of the trackman's uniform with its zips and straps and buttons is one thing, but what of that sprint wheel, snug in its cover with the drawstring like the ribbon on a negligé, and being caressed by track-mitted fingers? Enough! The real interest here is the curve of the track contrasted against the triangle of the frame which brilliantly accentuates that heart-stopping vertiginous plunge off the banking behind the motor pacer.
Copyright Anthony Green, c/o Piccadilly Gallery, London