Automobile artist George Ellis has created a beautiful watercolor of the 1937 Chrysler LeBaron Town Car. George has provided this background on the making of "Chrysler's Chrysler: The Painting."
Chrysler's Chrysler: The Painting
By George Ellis
Since 2003, I’ve done several dozen watercolor paintings of interesting cars. Recently, Howard Kroplick asked me to portray his 1937 Chrysler Imperial town car by LeBaron, custom-built for Mrs. Walter P. Chrysler.
Now that the painting is completed, Howard has asked me to tell you a bit about it.
I began with a visit to Howard’s “garage” in Roslyn, New York, for a photo shoot. I take slides of my subjects with my trusty Nikon FE2 camera so I can paint later in the studio. The average painting takes me about three weeks to complete, and a photo allows me to lock in the light, shadows, etc. so the image will remain unchanged throughout the process.
In the studio, I first come up with a concept. A photo in front of Howard’s shop would not do, but that’s what I had to work with. I decided to tell a story, and the story I wanted to tell came to me after much research. I learned that Mrs. Chrysler had died not long after her car was built, but it appeared that she did enjoy it for a year or two, and it was this enjoyment I wanted to capture. So I decided to place the car in front of the iconic Chrysler Building in Manhattan.
With the help of Wikipedia and Google, I found photos of the Art Deco entrances to the Chrysler Building, which I felt would perfectly complement the Art Deco town car and enhance the “Chrysler” context. Then I drilled down and discovered that among the ground floor tenants of the skyscraper were Florsheim Shoes and Adams Hats. I even found a photo of the building with a line of 1937-ish taxicabs in front—and there, easy to see, was the awning for Adams Hats, and a store to the left of it, by the entrance, whose name was not readable. I decided it would be Florsheim Shoes.
I begin each painting as any illustrator would: I project the selected slide onto the watercolor paper and carefully draw the car in pencil. It is impossible to draw a car accurately any other way, except perhaps by much drawing and erasure. This tends to destroy the paper’s ability to take the paint well, so in order to obtain a fine painting, drawing from the photo is indispensible.
Once I had the car drawn in, I used a straightedge to draw the building and the street in perspective. At this point, the painting is about to take on a life of its own as I apply paint in transparent layers, bringing it up out of the paper and seeing how it develops. It will begin to tell me what it wants.
The composition I chose has the car lit from several sources: the street, the building entrance, and most markedly by the headlights of a car behind it, beautifully enhancing the voluptuous lines of the rear body. Importantly, the buildings are also lit by the New York night, with reflections in the windows above and shadows on the street. Anonymous figures move down the sidewalk, while the key people—Mrs. Chrysler in the car, and the chauffeur and doorman next to it—are well lit, Mrs. Chrysler by the interior lights and the men by the building entrance.
The story of this painting can be interpreted any way the viewer chooses; I see it as Mrs. Chrysler arriving after hours (the stores are dark) to meet her husband. Mr. Chrysler had a private dining room in the Cloud Club, an elegant lunch club on the 66th through 68th floors that was open during daylight hours; I had originally thought that it was open in the evening also, and I did not know then that it was a men-only club.
But my ignorance of these historical details led to what I believe is a beautiful and poignant painting. Della Chrysler was her husband’s childhood sweetheart, and it is this fantasy moment that I consider to have been part of the peak of their happiness together. Chrysler was a towering industrialist, a self-made man who embodied the pinnacle of The American Dream. By 1937 he was one of the most prominent men in the U.S., and he and Della were enjoying the rich fruits of his life’s work.
In 1938, Della died at the age of 58. Walter was heartbroken and suffered a stroke. He lived two more years and passed of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1940.
This painting represents the magical moment when all was right for the Chryslers, and I am happy to have captured, at least in fantasy, the spirit of that time. I have had my printmaker reproduce the painting in a limited edition of 100 prints for the enjoyment of Chrysler fans and history buffs.
The original painting measures 12 by 16 inches; the prints are slightly smaller at 11 by 14 inches trim size. They are available ($95) through the George Ellis Gallery at www.georgeellis.com in the Special Topics Gallery, along with a painting of one of Howard’s other cars, the 1909 ALCO “Black Beast” racer, in a fanciful portrayal of the 1909 Vanderbilt Cup race. A print of this painting ($185) is also available at the Gallery, in a smaller limited edition of 25 prints measuring 14.75 by 20 inches.
I extend my sincere thanks to Howard for the opportunity to paint this beautiful automobile.
Development of Chrysler's Chrysler: The Painting
1937 Chrysler Imperial Town Car
Mrs. Walter P. Chrysler's town car, custom built by LeBaron, in a fantasy scene at the Chrysler Building in New York City. The car was discovered on Long Island, New York, and was restored and shown at Pebble Beach in 2014, where it won its class. Mrs. Chrysler enjoyed the car for a very short time, as she passed away in 1938; her daughter inherited it, and her initials appear on the rear doors. This painting is intended to portray a moment in which Mrs. Chrysler is about to meet her husband in the evening, as passersby hurry past the darkened ground-level stores on Lexington Avenue.
Limited Edition of 100 prints. Size: 11 X 14 inches. Signed and numbered. Price: $95.
ALCO Black Beast
Driver Harry Grant and mechanican Frank Lee, clad in leather driving suits (including face masks), brought the big ALCO home to victory in the 1909 Vanderbilt Cup race on Long Island, New York. This recreation shows the race and spectators at the Hicksville Turn.
Limited Edition of 25 prints. Size: 14.75 X 20 inches. Signed and numbered. Price: $185.