Peter Helck for the Saturday Evening Post (detail)
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Peter Helck 1893 - 1988
sight size 19" x 24" frame size 30 x 35
(Clarence) Peter Helck (1893 - 1988) was an American painter working throughout much of the 20th Century. Helck lived and worked primarily in the metropolitan New York area. He was known especially for American industrial scenes, with a special affinity for automotive and railroad scenes. It is estimated that Helck finished approximately 600 unique works in his life, ranging from small pen and ink sketches to large oil paintings. Many of these were used to illustrate popular magazine stories and advertisements.
Helck's work regularly appeared in magazines of the Curtis Publishing Company, including the Saturday Evening Post, Woman's Home Companion, and Country Gentleman. Helck's work was used on a variety of magazine covers, including for Fortune (Dec. 1930, "Harvesting Combine with Railroad"), and the Christmas issue of Country Gentleman (Dec. 1944, "Main Street at Christmas"). Helck was a regular contributor to Esquire magazine, and in 1950, in a departure from the magazine's usual "girlie" calendars, Helck illustratedan Esquire annual calendar using mostly automotive scenes.
Helck contributed to the American WWII war effort with a series of eight recruiting / morale posters.
Commercial advertising art was also fertile territory for Helck's work. His "industrial products" client list was impressive in this regard, including work for Republic Steel, ALCOA, Caterpillar Tractor and General Electric. Helck's "consumer products" client list was equally impressive, including examples for Chevrolet, TWA Airlines, Packard, Fisk Tires, and Sinclair Oil.
In 1956 a particularly strong work was completed for Johnnie Walker scotch whiskey, showing Helck's special affinity for vintage race cars in an "artist's library" scene. In this painting, an additional Helck work is displayed on an easel in the background; that painting is known as "A Motor Race on the Continent in the Early Days." The original of this Helck painting would become the most expensive piece of automotive fine art ever sold at auction, gathering over $100,000 at the 2006 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance automotive event.
Our painting is an "interior illustration" for the Saturday Evening Post, probably also completed in 1956.
Peter Helck was born in New York City in 1893. His early training came in New York at the Art Students League. After achieving national success, in 1948 Helck was a founding member of the Famous Artists School in Westport, CT., working there in the first year with other notables including Austin Briggs, Fred Ludekens, Al Parker, Norman Rockwell, and Harold von Schmidt. Helck was later on the FAS faculty in Westport with Rube Goldberg and Al Capp.
In 1958, the Society of Illustrators elected Norman Rockwell as the first annual inductee into their new Hall of Fame; ten years later, Helck (1968) was honored with this award. In addition to Rockwell and Helck, today the Hall of Fame Roster at the Society of Illustrators includes Harold von Schmidt (1960), Winslow Homer (1976), Maxfield Parrish (1975), N.C. Wyeth (1974), and Frederick Remington (1978).
Each year the Automotive Fine Arts Society awards their prestigious peer voted award for excellence. This award is named the "Peter Helck Trophy."
Our work is from a private group of important illustration art collected by a midwest publishing executive who had worked in the American automotive field in the 1960's. Included in this group were works by Austin Briggs, Ray Prohaska, Harold von Schmidt, Fritz Willis, James Sessions, James McKell and others.
In the original frame as displayed at the Curtis Publishing Company Detroit offices, circa 1961.
References: Walt Reed, The Illustrator in America. 1964. Society of Illustrators.
Mr. Reed used this painting to illustrate the work of Peter Helck in the first edition of his landmark book about American illustration art.
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