Wednesday 26 January 2011

The Bugatti Queen

Hellé Nice (born Mariette Hélène Delangle) was born on 15 December 1900 in Aunay-sous-Auneau, Eure-et-Loir, France.

At the age of 16, she moved to Paris and eventually became a successful dancer in the city's music halls. As her fame and popularity grew, she performed throughout Europe, and spent time with the rich and famous, such as Philippe de Rothschild, Jean Bugatti and Count Bruno d'Harcourt.

She love speed, and was an avid skier. Unfortunately a skiing accident damaged her knee and ended her dancing career. She quickly turned to racing cars, winning some races and breaking some speed records.

Markers on plywood
© Paul Chenard 2011

After a tour through the United States, where she raced a Miller racing car, she was introduced by de Rothschild to Bugatti. This lead Nice to race Bugattis, usually against men. Between 1931 and 1936, she raced Bugattis and Alfa Romeos.

In Brazil for two Grand Prix races, she had a major crash in her Alfa Romeo, but miraculously survived after a three-day coma.

After recovering, she competed in various endurance trials for Yacco, breaking ten records that still stand today.

During World War II, Hellé Nice moved to Nice. In 1949, Nice attended a party celebrating the first post-war Monte Carlo Rallye. During the evening, driver Louis Chiron publically accused Nice of being an agent of the Gestapo.

With these accusations, Nice was dropped by her sponsors and her friends. Her life collapsed around her and she live out her last decades in a back-alley apartment in complete poverty, under a fictitious name. She died penniless and alone in 1984.

In 2001, author Miranda Seymour came across some material on Nice and decided she should be honoured with a biography The Bugatti Queen: In Search of a Motor-Racing Legend in 2004. In her research, Seymour found no evidence of Chiron's claims.

In September 2010, a proper grave marker was placed at her grave in a celebration of her life and great accomplishments.

In doing renovations recently in our home, I was left with a blank canvas after I pulled up our old carpet. I decided to honour Hellé Nice's accomplishments with a sketch.

Markers on plywood
© Paul Chenard 2011
The new carpet was laid down over the sketch, waiting for years from now when new owners will discover this important personality.


Art Tidesco said...

Amazing story Paul and beautiful memorial. said...

Thank you, Art.
I've read of her accomplishments, and I felt I wanted to do this. Special people should honoured in more than one or two places in the country they lived, flourished and died.
I think artists have a responsibility to educate, to tell the untold stories. It's never really about the cars, it's always about the people ...
It won't be my last Hellé Nice art-piece ...

Historic Car Art said...

Great article, wonderful sketch!

Jeffery Blackwell said...

Paul - That is a great story - what a movie script waiting for someone.

Your "sketches" are always so full of energy. And I love the way you put them in such unexpected places!

Fernando De Cicco said...

Beautiful sketch, Paul. Congratulations!