Auto art de­fined golden age Mid­land artist whose work helped sell a dream to the mo­tor­ing classes

Birmingham Post - - FEATURE - Mike Lock­ley Fea­tures Staff

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

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