Géo Ham 1900-1972
George Hamel, better known as Géo Ham, was
one of the most well known and best loved of the poster illustrators between the wars, and an enormous influence on my own work. His Monaco posters from the thirties and forties are probably his best-known work, and are still among the most popular of the reproduction vintage motor racing poster market.
The image featured above for the 1934 Monaco Grand Prix tells the viewer everything they need to know at a glance: the simple, well designed text, the elegance of the Grand Casino, the tranquillity of the Mediterranean and the dynamic power and speed of the approaching racing cars. The simple device of raising the front wheel off the ground and the exaggerated perspective in the shadow, along with the dust thrown by the driving wheels, all give a superb impression of terrifying speed. Thrilling.
Hamel was born in the medieval French town of Laval, in the Loire Valley, on the 18th September 1900. His father was a photographer and his mother had a
women’s clothes shop and parfumier. His passion for speed probably began when he was eleven years old and he witnessed an aeroplane, piloted by a local politician tossing out leaflets, landing close to the town. Then just two years later he saw a race organized for cars and motorcycles in Laval, and he was hooked for life.
At the age of eighteen Géo Ham moved to Paris and attended the Ecole Nationale des Arts Décoratifs, and two years later he had an illustration published on the front cover of the car magazine ‘Omnia’ which he signed with the pseudonym Géo Ham.
By 1923 he began getting his illustrations and fine art published on a regular basis, and by the 1930s was already established as the finest in his field. Géo Ham was commissioned to create the now iconic Art Deco paintings, prints and posters for the Monaco Grand Prix, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and many other prestigious European Races.
A highlight of his life was competing in the 1934 Le Mans race in a 2 litre Derby L8, and although fuel problems forced his withdrawal on lap 44, the experience only added to his passion for racing art. He also worked as a newspaper journalist covering motor sport events around France.
Geo Ham continued to illustrate cars, planes and motorcycles well into the early 1960s. But by this time photography began to replace painting as the illustration of choice among advertisers and publishers, and gradually the name of Géo Ham “The Prince of Speed” became forgotten.
He died in 1972, and only twelve people attended his funeral at the Church of Val de Grace, Paris, on 30th June.