Lalique’s Mascots, Too Cool to Ride on Radiators – The New York Times

Supported by

PART weird bestiary, part alien zodiac, the crystalline characters of René Lalique appear far too ethereal to ride on the noses of mere motorcars. Perhaps that is why these automotive mascots — “hood ornament” is too mundane a characterization — are among the most treasured automotive accessories.
A complete set of Lalique mascots is being offered at an RM Auctions sale on March 10 in conjunction with the Amelia Island Concours d’Élégance in Florida. The 30 glass figures come with a lighted and climate-controlled display case; the presale estimate is $800,000 to $1.2 million.
Only three sets are known to exist, said Alain Squindo, a specialist at RM. “For a collector of automobile accessories these are the most desired of objects,” he said.
Small metal sculptures began to replace the thermometers and safety valves topping automobile radiators in the early days of the motorcar. The most famous of these, the Rolls-Royce Spirit of Ecstasy, also known as the Flying Lady, arrived in 1911. Well before manufacturers offered their own hood ornaments, affluent owners personalized the family car — Bentley or Bugatti, Hispano-Suiza or Isotta-Fraschini — with favorite designs, usually of metal.
René Lalique was already a famous jeweler when he began to shrewdly court wealthy automobile owners. In 1906 he created gift plates for the winners of the Targa Florio races. Soon he was adapting some of the imagery of his 250 perfume bottles and paperweights into mascots to sit above the radiator.
Lalique’s decision around 1910 to focus on glass provided the foundation for his luxury empire. “Lalique was an immensely talented artist with an entrepreneurial bent,” said David McFadden, chief curator at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. “He realized that by taking a mundane material like glass, and adding artistry, he could reach a wider audience.”
The auto mascots gained momentum in 1925 at the Art Deco exposition in Paris. André Citroën, a supporter of the exposition, used the occasion to introduce a new version of the 5CV car, also called the Cinq Chevaux (five horses). He ordered a special mascot from Lalique.

16 Photos
View Slide Show
His creation consisted of five elegantly silhouetted prancing steeds. The RM catalog notes: “The success of the Citroën mascot exposed his unique talent to an entirely new audience.” Over the next seven years, Lalique, who died in 1945, created 27 mascots.
Some suggest animal personalities from the fables of Jean de la Fontaine, regarded by the French as a national literary treasure. Others are allegorical figures, saints and sirens. There are two mermaids, Sirène and Naïade.
The mascots include two seminude female forms that make the Rolls Flying Lady look positively sedate: the forward-straining Vitesse (speed) and the kneeling Chrysis.
Together the collection makes a wonderfully weird mix: the swallow by the eagle and the peacock by the greyhound. The archer abuts St. Christopher; mermaids swim beside frogs.
The ornaments vary in finish from clear to frosted to satin. Some were tinted. Many were fitted with internal electric lighting.
Many of the mascots are rare. Even with a careful chauffeur, life on the road could be dangerous, and glass is fragile.
While there are no records of production numbers, Lalique connoisseurs generally agree on the relative importance of the pieces. RM said “the largest and most famous mascot is Victoire (spirit of the wind),” which made its debut in 1928 on a Minerva automobile.
The collection offered at Amelia Island belongs to Ele Chesney, a retired New Jersey electronics entrepreneur and automobile collector. She bought the Lalique collection in 2000 at an RM auction in New York for $550,000 and has improved it by finding better examples of individual mascots.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *