Auto art defined golden age Midland artist whose work helped sell a dream to the motoring classes
MANY art lovers will be oblivious to Harold Connolly’s body of work, yet it is acclaimed and of great importance.
Quite simply, Connolly is viewed as the greatest motor car illustrator of all time.
At the very dawn of the commercial mechanised vehicle industry, the artist was the man companies turned to.
He would paint images of their gleaming limos for advertisements.
It was a unique career path that Connolly took despite his father’s protests – he wanted the lad to join him in the pub trade.
Connolly was born at the Clarendon Hotel, Chapel Ash, Wolverhampton in 1893.
His father Louis had acquired a pub in Wolverhampton by 1884, followed by several more – and his own brewery.
At the start of World War One, Harold Connolly enlisted, aged 21, as a second lieutenant with the Royal Field Artillery Regiment and later with the Medical Corps.
He saw action at the Allied Landings on Gallipoli and the Dardanelles, Turkey, finally returning in 1917.
He left the army in 1919 and was immediately put under pressure to join the family wine business.
Years earlier Connolly, a boarder at Mount St Mary’s College, Sheffield, had shown his preference for art over alcohol by winning a top award in the subject for eight consecutive years.
He was excited by the emergence of the motor car and made money – very good money – from the transport revolution.
Despite having no formal training, Connolly gained commissions from the biggest automobile companies out there.
His bulging portfolio featured gleaming machines by MG, Sunbeam, Briton and Star, Ford, Austin, Morris, Jaguar, Aston Chrysler, Chevrolet, Renault, De Dion Bouton, Dodge, Lancia, Armstrong and AC Motorcycles.
It was a ground-breaking period in British manufacturing history.
In 1919 Coventry was home to 15 car makers, Birmingham 12, Wolverhampton six and the rest of the Black Country three.
The motor car swiftly became a must-have status symbol of the wealthy. Marble clad, art deco showrooms demanded glossy marketing brochures.
You could pick-up a car for £299 and vehicles were now being finished Martin, Cadillac, Daimler, Siddeley in many colours – not just black. The colourful approach increased the clamour for Connolly’s work.
He sold his first drawing to Motorcycling magazine in 1921 when he was 28. “Bit by bit I was earning enough to get by, about six to eight pounds a week, from freelance work,” Connolly later stated.
By 1923, his work was featuring regularly in The Motor magazine – and on the front page.
Connolly’s paintings featured in the brochures of 10 famous carmakes at the London Motor Show of 1937. With the cash rolling in, he bought sleek, sporting MG 2-litre J2 for a himself and a Morris Minor as a Christmas present wife Moll. The Minor was the first British popular car with a price ticket of £100. The magnificent MG saloon was a heftier £375.
This period marked the high point of Connolly’s commercial career.
The start of World War Two and the techno- logical advances in magazine ing hit Connolly hard. Publications now preferred colour photos rather than illustrations. From 1949, Connolly concentrated on painting old-time cars and motorcycles, each accompanied by beautifully-crafted anecdotes of the joys of motoring. The outcome was to be a book produced by the artist under the title Those Were the Motoring Days and recording his personal experience. The book was never published and its contents remained in a shoe-box until 2003. Louis Jnr, Connolly’s son, lovingly published the work under the title “The Motoring Art of Harold Connolly”. Harold Connolly died in 1973, aged 80. Louis passed away in 2013 at 79. The family-run Connolly Wines business continues to thrive in the Midlands with outlets in central Birmingham incorporating a wine bar and Solihull. print-
> Some of Harold Connolly’s fine work. Right: Connolly before the First World War