The Flying Lady

The Flying Lady

Eleanor Thornton

Eleanor ThorntonThis year the famous Rolls-Royce mascot, the Spirit of Ecstasy, marks its centenary anniversary. To celebrate this important icon of motoring history, and its connections with the Montagu family, a new exhibition will be unveiled on 5 May 2011 in the family home of Palace House.

Telling the intriguing story behind the mascot’s creation, this exhibition explores the connections between motoring pioneer, John Montagu, his friend, the British artist and sculptor, Charles Sykes, and John’s London-based secretary and mistress, Eleanor Thornton.

In 1910, Claude Johnson, the Managing Director of Rolls-Royce, commissioned Sykes to design a mascot “that belonged to the (Rolls-Royce) car as much as a carved wooden figurehead belonged to a sailing vessel.” The Spirit of Ecstasy mascot has adorned the radiator of every Rolls-Royce since 1911.

Widely believed to be the inspiration for Sykes’ iconic mascot, Eleanor never lived to witness the global success of the emblem made in her image. Whilst travelling to India on the P&O liner SS Persia with Lord Montagu in 1915, the ship was torpedoed by a German U-Boat. Whilst Eleanor lost her life in the attack, Lord Montagu survived and returned to England, distraught with grief, but unable to openly mourn for his secret lover.

Eleanor’s secret love affair with the married John, Lord Montagu was immortalised in another mascot Sykes designed for Montagu. It was christened The Whisper and depicts a young woman, widely believed to be based on Eleanor, in fluttering robes with a secretive forefinger pressed to her lips.

With original artworks and ephemera rarely seen in public, this promises to be an exhibition not to be missed. On display will be some of Charles Sykes’ original artwork, including special edition covers for The Car Illustrated magazine, which was edited by John Montagu, as well as several original bronzes.

The exhibition will be on display in Palace House until October 2011 and can be seen as part of a visit to the whole Beaulieu attraction.