Motoring Art Website

The art of uk motoring artists

Johnson A

Year working: Working 1900’s

I have two photographs of oil paintings on canvas (size 13 x 9 inches) of veteran cars, these are reproduced herewith. At first glance there is nothing too remarkable about them, until one realises that they were contemporary and were painted by an artist A. Johnson in 1903. (Any UK original motoring art of this date is extremely scarce). There are limited clues about the history of the pictures other than the artist’s name and date on the painting’s stretcher and they have the artist’s monogram AJ at the low right. The paintings are on Rowney canvas and the framer was Tibbenham. It is known that at the turn of the century Tibbenham had a business in Ipswich as framers and fine art dealers. Another factor pointing towards an East of England origin was that they were acquired several years ago by the present owner from a paintings auction in Norfolk. The cars themselves provide no definite clues about the owner. The first is a 1900 De Dion Bouton Model E with 3½hp or Model G 4½hp engine (probably the Model E) with a standard ‘vis-à-vis’ body in black (or very dark green) with red coach-lining. The small red circular sign on the side panel of the car is the De Dion Bouton factory transfer mark and not an owner’s heraldic shield. Malcolm Jeal advises that Mulliner of London were one of the agents for De Dion Bouton and some of their contemporary sales records still survive in the care of the Veteran Car Club. The only car listed with black bodywork and red coachlines was supplied on the 18th April 1901 to J N Hayball Esq. No address is given. There are no records of deep green cars but it is emphasised that the sales details are incomplete. So it is highly likely there were other black or green cars sold of what was a popular car at the time. The second car is more unusual. It is a Decauville 8½hp twin cylinder car with standard rear-entry tonneau factory bodywork in yellow with brown and black detail. This was a model introduced in about March 1901 by the UK agents – Motor Car Company Ltd of Shaftsbury Avenue, London. A distinguishing feature of the Decauville was that the radiator was at the rear of the car. Unfortunately this cannot be seen from the front view depicted by the artist. Malcolm Jeal was able to supply a photographic humorous post card entitled ‘Pip-Pip’ of a similar car which clearly shows the radiator and rear entry bodywork. The car carries a Portsmouth registration and the picture was taken in 1904 (after 1st January 1904 when registrations became mandatory and it was postally used in November of that year). The other features that point to a Decauville are: the black boss, below the distinctively shaped front splash board, through which the starting handle passes; the separate brake and gear levers and their respective positions; the dished steering wheel; the minor controls on the column; the dashboard shape with its square corner cut-outs and iron grab handles; and the very thick seat back. The only non-standard feature of the yellow car is that the front face of the coal-scuttle bonnet is slightly concave whereas it was straight on a factory model. Whether this was true or ‘artistic licence’ is not known. It is interesting that one of the few known Decauville cars was in fact owned by Reginald Egerton of Botwood and Egerton, Ipswich garage and motor car dealers. (Incidentally Reginald was the brother of Hubert, who was one of the principals of Mann, Egerton & Co of Norwich). Reginald’s car could be the same but it is believed that the Egerton car was a dark colour not the yellow car of this example. If it is not the same car, there is evidence of a local East of England interest in the marque. At first appearance the paintings with their plain backgrounds seem to be the type of art a manufacturer may have produced for early sales literature. But looking in detail one can see that the artist had some problems getting the correct ellipse shape of the wheels and other features, suggesting the works are by a good amateur or minor artist not by the professional artist that a manufacturer would use. This is confirmed by A Johnson not being listed in major artists’ directories. The conclusion is that the owner of these cars commissioned these works from a local artist, just as owners of horses for many years had paintings of their favourite mounts on the wall. In that case the person was without doubt one of the first, if not the first, automobile art collector. Can any reader advise from their knowledge of veteran cars who owned an early De Dion and Decauville prior to 1903, probably living in Norfolk/Suffolk? {Many thanks to Malcolm Jeal for considerable assistance with identifying/supplying information about the cars and the loan of the postcard. The photographs of the paintings are reproduced by kind permission of CURTIS LANE & Co photographers of Sudbury}

Further reference

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De Dion Bouton

Decauville