Le Tour Exhibition: Where Cycling, Art And Religion Collide

As Bradley Wiggins continues his quest for cycling immortality, get yourselves down to Snap Galleries to check out this beautiful gallery of Tour De France art...
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As Bradley Wiggins continues his quest for cycling immortality, get yourselves down to Snap Galleries to check out this beautiful gallery of Tour De France art...

“The Tour de France has become art.”  David Millar, in the introduction to the book that accompanies the exhibition of work by London based artist James Straffon, LE TOUR: FROM MAILLOT JAUNE TO LANTERNE ROUGE, which coincides with the running of the 99th Tour de France.

How do you top the spectacle that is the Tour de France?

Quite simply, you don't. There is nothing in cycling bigger than the Tour de France, and over the decades, the Tour has fueled a quasi-religious devotion among cycling fans to their Tour heroes. This new exhibition of work by James Straffon celebrates the Tour de France and consists of 70 new pieces over two floors of gallery space, at Snap Galleries premises at Piccadilly Arcade in central London.

The show runs throughout July, and ends on Saturday 28 July 2012 after the conclusion of the mens Olympic road race in central London. The timing of this exhibition is incredibly important, and not just because it straddles both the Tour and the Olympic road race, where we Brits stand a very real chance of podiums and medals with Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish. Equally as importantly, it is timely because it taps into an era - and that era is right now - where cycling has become the new religion for many men in their 40s. And I speak as a convert because I’m one of them.

The gallery looks eye-poppingly spectacular - a shrine to the worship of Tour heroes past. Eddy Merckx, Tom Simpson, Jacques Anquetil, Louison Bobet, Charly Gaul, Fausto Coppi, Gino Bartali, Felice Gimondi and many others are represented.

Religious devotion is a key theme, and LE TOUR cleverly repositions a sporting event, and its players, as a gallery of devotional imagery. Focussing on the visually-rich narrative of cycling heritage, and using rare and unusual items of cycling memorabilia, James Straffon incorporates pigment, collage, resin and other mixed-media to build iconic images of the great and good, and the highs and lows of a unique sporting discipline.

Visitors to the exhibition will find that the sheer variety of work on show is staggering

Visitors to the exhibition will find that the sheer variety of work on show is staggering, whether it is the collection of original paintings of important Tour team jerseys; the fourteen resin coated triptychs featuring icons of the sport created from historic cycling magazines and ephemera from the 40s, 50ʼs and 60s; the installation pieces featuring bike frames and shoes; or the installation artwork that includes an original vinyl version of Kraftwerkʼs single Tour De France, with an ipod attached that plays the music on a loop.

The exhibition features a collection of original unique pieces and a small number of limited editions, with prices starting at £250 for limited editions and £500 for the original pieces. Rapha have produced a beautiful 72 page book that accompanies the exhibition, which is available to purchse at the gallery. You can view all the pieces in the show, with price and size information, at LE TOUR exhibition homepage.  

Wiggins gained the yellow jersey in the 2012 Tour de France on Saturday 7 July, almost 50 years, to the day, after Tom Simpson

LE TOUR: MODifications

I’m thrilled that Tour de France GC contender Bradley Wiggins has donated one of his Bont cycling shoes to the exhibition, which James Straffon has converted into an installation piece, titled MODifications that pays homage to British cycling legend Tom Simpson, whose fateful ascent of Mont Ventoux took place in July 1967.

Earlier this year, Wiggins won the Paris-Nice ('Race to the Sun'), matching the success of Tom Simpson, some 45 years earlier, noting that: "To follow in Tom Simpson’s footsteps and become the second British rider to win Paris-Nice is something special."

Simpson was the first Briton to wear the Tour’s yellow jersey in 1962, and the exhibition coincides with the 50th anniversary of this event. With Wiggins currently wearing the yellow jersey in the 2012 Tour de France (at the time of writing at least), he has the opportunity to go one step further than his 1960s idol. Wiggins gained the yellow jersey in the 2012 Tour de France on Saturday 7 July, almost 50 years, to the day, after Tom Simpson.

MODifications has pride of place in the front window of the gallery for the duration of the exhibition.

LE TOUR: The portrait series

The portrait series is the backbone of the exhibition. Fourteen unique artworks, each one measuring 80 x 30 x 4cm, with a resin coating giving them an incredible sheen, and featuring Tour legends from the 50s, 60s and 70s, the portrait series places a strong emphasis on the triptych as composition; the single entity, as a fusion of three connected elements; folklore into theology; the untouchables; altar paintings, in a world of repurposed devotion.

Two key pieces feature Tour legends Eddy Merckx and Tom Simpson.

Nicknamed "Major Tom", Simpson was the first British cyclist to taste success on mainland Europe


Tom Simpson (30 November 1937–13 July 1967) 

Near the summit of Mont Ventoux, set back from the road, sits a marble slab. The inscription on its surface reads: A la memoire de Tom Simpson, Medaille Olympique, Champion du monde, Ambassadeur Sportif Britannique Décédé Le 13 Juillet (Tour de France 1967) Ses amis cyclistes de Grande Bretagne

Nicknamed "Major Tom", Simpson was the first British cyclist to taste success on mainland Europe. In 1962 he became the first Briton to wear the maillot jaune (Stage 12). Simpson rode the 1965 Tour in the World Road Champion's jersey. On 12 July 1967, Peugeot mechanic Harry Hall finished fitting the gears on Simpon's bike, writing in his Tour notebook 'Ventoux: 14/15/17/19/22/23. Rest OK.' At 5.40 the following day, Simson's death was announced to the Tour press room, by race co-organiser, Félix Lévitan

 Under today's health guidelines, Merckx would not be allowed to race

Eddy Merckx : 149 coureurs et Merckx.

Edouard Louis Joseph, Baron Merckx (born 17 June 1945). Also known as 'The Cannibal'.

Eddy Merckx's favourite artist is René Magritte. In 1937, Magritte painted 'La reproduction interdite' [reproduction forbidden] - a label which could equally apply to Merckx. His racing achievements are unique. This epithet all the more poignant when taking into account Merckx's cardiogram results during his golden years, which ostensibly indicated he rode with a heart condition. Under today's health guidelines, Merckx would not be allowed to race. "There are no symptoms, but there was a risk of sudden death. Eddy Merckx rode his entire career with the sword of Damocles over his head", states Italian cardiologist Dr. Giancarlo Lavezzaro, having been asked in 1968 to examine Merckx. (Eddy Merckx: the Cannibal, by Daniel Friebe, 2012).

Merckx is the only cyclist to have won the General, Points and Mountains Classification in the same Tour de France (1969), and was winner of the General Classification five times - 1969-1972, 1974, King of the Mountains 1969, 1970,  Points Classification 1969, 1971, 1972. He had 34 career Tour stage victories.

LE TOUR: Merckxissimo!

Eddy Merckx is such a TOUR legend that he also features in a number of other pieces in the show, for example


Remember those old Viewmasters you had when you were a kid? An Eddy Merckx themed Viewmaster features in the exhibition, titled 3DDY. The 'mechanics of worship' is significant within pieces such as 3DDY - an installation piece which has the viewer 'looking to the light' , through the view master, their gaze falling on the victorious travails of Eddy Merckx. Here, the house of god, in the palm of your hand. Maybe. A photograph shows gallery visitor Emily Allchurch looking through the Viewmaster.  Wait a minute.... Emily Allchurch? Yep - seems we can't get away from the religious undertones with these pieces.

These radial, spoked compositions reposition the subject into a cyclic framework

More Eddy Merckx: Les Disques, I II and III 

Taking some of the frames from the three Viewmaster disks used in 3DDY, James has reinterpreted the Rose (or Catherine) window, frequently located at the north or south transepts of a cathedral. These radial, spoked compositions reposition the subject into a cyclic framework. Modern-day icons, captured within the vernacular of worship, you might say. The three prints in the Disques series all feature Eddy Merckx.

LE TOUR: The Jersey series

The cycling jersey has been employed by the Tour since its origins - as an exhibition of allegiance, a badge of honour, and a billboard for commerce. James Straffon's jersey series presents classic Tour de France jerseys, in acrylic on canvas, each one measuring 15 x 15 x 4 cm.

Featured Jerseys are ACCB-Saint Raphaël-Helyett-Hutchinson, Legnano-Pirelli, Margnat-Paloma, Saint Raphaël-Gitane, Bianchi, BiC, G S Faema, G S EMI, Legnano, Mercier-BP-Hutchinson, Pelforth-Sauvage-Le Jeune, Peugeot-BP-Michelin, Carpano, Switzerland, Salvarini.

LE TOUR: the King of the Mountains series.

James Straffon's 'King of the Mountains' prints, are a series of nine different images in a beautiful small size, at a very affordable price, all in a  reassuringly low worldwide limited edition of just nine for each. At £250 each they have been very popular and are selling fast. The series of nine limited edition prints is based on historic photographs of key mountain stages in the history of the tour, subtly referenced by James with patterns of red dots, which echo the famous polka dot jersey worn by the rider who collects the most king of the mountains points during the Tour. Subjects featured in this series include Eddy Merckx, Fausto Coppi, Gino Bartali, Lance Armstrong, Marco Pantani, Tom Simpson, Jacques Anquetil, Charly Gaul, Louison Bobet, not to mention the famous mountains themselves. You can get a good appreciation of the span of time covered by these images when you look closely at the changing types of support vehicles that accompany the riders in may of the photographs.

The highly recognisable polka dot jersey first appeared in 1975

The first 'King of the Mountains' was René Pottier, in 1905. At that time this title was  bestowed on the best climber. This continued until 1933, with the first recipient of the Grand Prix de la Montagne being Spaniard Vicente Trueba.The highly recognisable polka dot jersey first appeared in 1975 - the design courtesy of long-term Tour sponsor Chocolat Poulain (one of the oldest chocolate brands in France) with input from then Tour organiser Félix Lévitan.The first official mountain stage appeared in 1910, with the introduction of the Pyrénées, and Le Col du Tourmalet. Having conducted a recce for the proposed climb, Alphonse Steines, sports journalist and assistant to Tour organiser Henri Desgrange, cabled back "Tourmalet crossed. Stop. Very good road. Stop. Perfectly acceptable. Stop. Steinès." The first rider over the summit was Octave Lapize, who famously cried at the race organisers "Vous êtes des assassins! Oui, des assassins."

The Alps arrived in 1911, with the Col de Galibier, about which Desgrange wrote "Oh Col Bayard, Oh Col Tourmalet… beside the Galibier you are nothing…"

LE TOUR: A personal favourite - Le Baiser

James Straffon's collection is really very special, and seeing as I always get asked "What's your favourite piece?",  I thought I would tell you.

For me it has to be Le Baiser - The Kiss, which measures 30 x 60cm and features Louison Bobet & Annie Cordy, Fausto Coppi & Line Renaud, Jacques & Janine Anquetil, Hugo Koblet and Christian Raymond. There's a lovely quote from an article in Miroir Sprint, 1955, which puts it well:

"After the effort the reward lies in these kisses. A few iron wires divide the road from their families. A fragile barrier to those who have triumphed over so many pitfalls beneath their wheels during the long ride leading to this pink cement track where - often from far away - their families came to greet them. Scarcely has the last lap been completed, the last effort in a desperate sprint, the great reward of the applauding public welcoming the men with multi-coloured bouquets, they come, one after the other, receiving a reward more intimate and warm: the kiss offered them by the old mother, the smiling toddler, the woman moved."

LE TOUR: Le book

James Straffon's exhibition LE TOUR:FROM MAILLOT JAUNE TO LANTERNE ROUGE is celebrated in a beautiful 72 page hardcover book, with an introduction by David Millar, who sums it all up nicely, when he says:

"Since its inception Le Tour has been a race for writers, spawning some of the greatest sports literature written, yet artists very rarely take up the challenge of capturing it. This is not surprising considering what a chaotically epic spectacle the race can be; it is hard to capture what won’t be caught. James has taken up the challenge and found a visual vocabulary for the chaos, he has brought it all together: the Tour de France has become art."

This beautiful book is available to purchase from the gallery .

LE TOUR: dates and times

The exhibition is on now, and ends Saturday 28 July at 5.00pm

Opening hours Tuesday to Saturday, 11.00am - 5.00pm

There is no admission charge, and all the artworks are for sale.


Snap Galleries, 12 Piccadilly Arcade, London SW1Y 6NH


info@snapgalleries.com / tel 020 7493 1152

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