Hautos: Rolls-Royce Spirit of Ecstasy Turns 100

An upper class sex scandal may be the inspiration for the Spirit of Ecstasy, the Rolls-Royce hood ornament that has adorned the luxury British car since 1911.

In 1910, Rolls-Royce’s managing director commissioned artist and sculptor Charles Sykes to create the car’s mascot. It is widely believed that the inspiration for the sylph-like female form is that of a woman called Eleanor Thornton, who was the mistress of Sykes’ friend, motoring pioneer Lord John Montagu. Eleanor was tragically killed by a German torpedo; and though grief-stricken, as a married man Montagu couldn’t openly mourn the death of his lover. It is believed that Sykes created the original sculpture, The Whisper, which became the Spirit of Ecstasy, as a discreet yet still public way to honour his friend’s lost lover.

To celebrate 100 years of the elegant female figure taking pride of place on Rolls-Royce cars, the photographer Rankin has been commissioned to take 100 photos inspired by the Spirit of Ecstasy. The first two photos have been released featuring Rankin’s wife Tuuli Shipster, a model, in a close-up photograph of her rather symmetrical face and a full-length picture of her in profile draped in fabric in a pose that echoes the Spirit of Ecstasy’s sensual stance.

From now until August, the Rankin exhibition will travel the world, unveiling the photographs. As well as UK locations, including Sunningdale and London, the exhibition will be seen in other premium destinations including Dubai, Monaco, Singapore, Aspen, Tokyo and Pebble Beach, USA.

For people in London who are keen to take a trip to the glorious New Forest this summer, there will be an exhibition at Palace House, the Montagu family home, which will feature original car-related artwork by Sykes.

The Palace House exhibition will be open to the public but the Rankin exhibition will be limited to guests and customers of Rolls-Royce. Click here for complete list of dates and cities.