Pierre de Soete (1886-1948), ‘Vers la Victoire’, 1923
Price Code: £££££
‘Vers la Victoire’ (Towards Victory), 1923
A highly important, massive bronze and sandstone motor-racing trophy by Pierre de Soete (1886-1948), the bronze on a raised hardwood plinth with applied (vacant) plaques. Belgian, signed and dated 1923.
Length overall: 37 inches (92 cm)
Pierre de Soete (1886-1948) is regarded as one of Belgium’s leading early 20th century sculptors. Whilst still only in his thirties, he was commissioned by Minerva, the Belgian motor manufacturer, to design and create a mascot, the result being ‘Minerva – Goddess of Peace’, introduced in 1922 and considered today to be one of the most striking and sought-after of all manufacturer’s mascots.
In 1923, de Soete sculpted this superb and massive trophy, entitled ‘Vers la Victoire’ (‘Towards Victory’), which he dedicated to his friends, the Belgian racing drivers Leopold and Robert Guelis. The Guelis family were hugely wealthy furriers in Belgium, and it is thought that the Guelis brothers competed in the Targa Florio race in Sicily that year.
The racing car depicted appears to be an amalgam of Alfa-Romeo and FIAT, the two most successful racing cars of the period. The sculptor, de Soete, has shown the car with its driver and co-driver hurtling up a steep incline into a bend, with remarkable detailing of both occupants, and the interior of the car. The impression of speed is everywhere – the dust flying up from the wheels is artfully accomplished.
Cast on a bronze sôcle, on which the artist’s signature and the date of the piece, 1923, appear, the bronze rests upon a sculpted and inclined sandstone slab, representing a banked racetrack. This in turn rests on a lacquered hardwood base of elongated oval form, on which is mounted a bronze plaque bearing the dedication by de Soete to the Guelis brothers. The plinth also bears six smaller vacant bronze plaques, raising the intriguing probability that the piece had originally been intended for annual presentation. The bronze retains its original green/gilded patina, and, like the granite and the hardwood plinth, is in excellent original condition.
Pre-war automobile sculpture is rare, especially of the heroic proportions of this work. The sheer artistry that Pierre de Soete has employed in this piece is remarkable – the co-driver’s scarf, for example, or the ‘flames’ spitting from the exhaust pipe of the car, show extraordinary skill and imagination on the part of the sculptor. It is fair to describe ‘Vers la Victoire’ as possibly the most important post-1914 motor-racing trophy.
The provenance of the piece is interesting, in that it apparently passed into the ownership of a motor-racing enthusiast in the South of France in the late 1930s. It was acquired in 1984 by an American collector, from whose estate it was purchased by this gallery. Only three other examples of this bronze are recorded: one example in England, one in Holland and one in America, none with the original sandstone base or hardwood plinth. Further research has also found a photograph of this bronze in the June 11th, 1926 issue of Light Car & Cyclecar.
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