Helck was born in 1893 and by the time of his death he had seen
automobile racing from its early beginnings on Long Island to the rear
engined single seaters we are accustomed to today. He knew drivers
from Louis Wagner to Mario Andretti and his paintings documented their
exploits as none had before or since.
As a young boy he would garner rides with race
car driver Al Poole testing the latest cars from Simplex. The first
race that he attended was the 1906 Vanderbilt Cup on Long Island. He grew
inspiration from legendary French artist Edouard Montaut who’s
exaggeration of speed leant his work a sense of super realism. While
an art student in New York he would spend many a lunchtime gazing at
all of the wonderful showroom displays along that city's automobile
row. His first published work was for the Brighton Beach Motordrome.
Commissions for the Sheepshead Bay Speedway soon followed.
In time Helck worked for most of the major
publications of the day including The Autocar through which he traveled to
England and the continent. While there he witnessed major races in
France and Italy. In the 1930's he was commissioned by the Sinclair
Oil-Company to create a five paneled map. The result was a portfolio of
lush service station scenes which monumentalized Sinclair and the idea
of driving for pleasure. Helck himself has estimated that he created
more than 600 racing sketches, drawings, and paintings that are
owned by both private individuals and museums.
1941 "Old 16", arguably America's most famous race car, passed into the
ownership of the one remaining man who could fully appreciate the
drama and history caught up in the big gray car - Peter Helck who immortalized
the Locomobile race car in one of his greatest paintings. The big Loco
still carries the original gray paint and racing number from the 1908
Vanderbilt race - Helck had promised both drivers, Tracy and Robertson
that the car would never be "restored." Upon his death it
was bequeathed to the Henry Ford Museum.
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Peter Helck was born in New York City in 1893. He studied art at the Art Students League in Manhattan and later studied in England with muralist Frank Brangwyn.
From the 1920's through the 1940's Helck was very successful as a magazine illustrator and advertising artist. His commissions frequently were of industrial scenes, or featured cars, trucks and locomotives.
During that period he also painted pictures of famous automobile races -- having been an avid fan of the sport since childhood. In 1944 he did a series of paintings for Esquire magazine in which he recreated the excitement of automobile races from the first decades of the 20th century. To his great satisfaction, these pictures proved very popular, and in the following decades he developed a large market for paintings of old cars. It is for this genre that he is mostly remembered today.
His death in 1988 at the age of 95 closed a window to the past when
men drove huge monstrous machines at tremendous speeds over rock
strewn roads. Beyond his paintings Helck authored many articles and at
two books, The Checkered Flag and Great Auto Races
Official Website: http://www.peterhelck.com/index.php